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The Blackford Centre
Our mission is to transform people's lives through distance learning, and to give our students a new and enriching career.
We accept that we have a responsibility to act in an ethical way, and this document tries to document our position. It's a work in progress, not a definitive statement.
I welcome any comments you might have (at kits@instX.org - remove the X before emailing), particularly if we fail to meet any of the standards we set out below.
Our environmental impacts
Major impacts: Our main impact is the paper we use, especially our paper-based course materials and the packaging materials used by us and our suppliers. In addition we use energy in our offices and cars, and in the distribution impacts caused by our delivery company.
Raw materials: Our office paper is made from recycled post-consumer waste paper. Our course pages also come from recycled post-consumer waste paper.
Recycling: We aim to recycle as much paper used in the office as possible. We use a fortnightly kerbside recycling service provided by the local council.
Reducing our impacts: For all established courses we have an online editions. These reduce the amount of paper used, and will encourage students to upload their assignments on the internet. The development of email has also given students faster feedback from their tutor, and has the merit of cutting impacts caused by paper production and transportation.
We believe that our courses provide a social good, in that they give people the opportunity to create for themselves new work opportunities, and thereby change the course of their life.
But home working and self-employment can, in its worst manifestation, trap the individual in a long-hours, low-income prison where they're at the mercy of larger businesses. We seek to obviate that by focusing on high value-added careers, and by emphasising the need for effective marketing.
We will sell only those courses that we believe offer the student a realistic chance of earning a living from home. And we won't sell any courses that are either unethical or unproven. For example, we have discontinued our astrology and homeopathic courses.
We aim to continually improve the quality of our course materials. For example, the online edition of each course allows us to add audio or video information, which enriches the student's learning experience.
The service we provide
Course quality: We aim to make our courses accessible, stimulating and interactive. We aim to stay abreast of changes and developments in the industry, for the benefit of our students.
We will only use active practitioners as tutors, since their experience gives the learner a much richer experience.
We're aware that texts can soon look out of date if not regularly updated, and we will seek to prevent that happening through constant amendment.
Response times: We aim to despatch courses within two working days, and to reply to enquiries within one working day. We expect our tutors to return assignments within seven working days.
Mentoring: To help our students succeed, we provide a free 90 day mentoring service for our entrepreneurial courses.
Refunds: Recognizing that our courses don't meet everyone's needs, we provide an unconditional 60 day money-back guarantee, which doesn't start until the student has received their course materials.
For our entrepreneurial courses, we will also refund the fee if, 90 days after completing the course, the student has not earned at least the cost of the course. In such circumstances, we will ask for evidence that the student has done some marketing.
Accreditation: Our service as a distance learning provider is accredited by an independent organization, NCFE, and we will abide by its decisions.
Assignments: Our assignments generally comprise short essays and case studies. We don't use assignments that require a one-word answer, since this is pedagogically weak and (among some competitors) leads to marking being done in-house by non-expert administrative staff. We believe that such assignments diminish the educational richness of the course.
We aim to provide fair wages, terms and conditions for all who work for the organization. We are an accredited Living Wage employer, one of the first 1,000 businesses to achieve this.
We also aim to further the development of our people through training.
Contracted work: We aim to have fair dealings with our business partners. We make use of outside contractors to provide us with IT services, design and written material. We use contractors all over the world, including the UK, USA, India and Russia .
Where we source expertise from outside the West, we aim to use independent firms with whom we can work on a regular basis, and where the revenue flows straight to the contractor. We believe that this form of contracting is non-exploitative and provides good revenue to the contractor.
We will aim to describe our courses and the ensuing work opportunities with enthusiasm but not exaggeration.
We seek a relationship with with the local community. This can entail giving work experience to a student, or providing time or money for local charities or community organizations.
We pay all taxes willingly, and do not participate in tax avoidance or evasion. This is despite our accountant (nicknamed affectionately 'Satan') offering us tax avoidance schemes.
We have created and fund two charities, both of which use our expertise in self-employment. They are:
Tamyaz.com, a charity that helps people in Palestine earn a living through online freelancing, and ultimately to create their own online business.
The Escape Route, a charity that provides ready-made businesses for UK ex-prisoners. Employers are reluctant to hire ex prisoners, and lack of employment is one of the main factors in recidivism. Self employment reduces the barriers to work.
Energy: We will buy our energy from a renewable supplier.
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