With an education curriculum so heavily based on exams, it is rare that students get an opportunity to develop independent learning skills that are project based and independently chosen. This is why we offer the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to students in Year 12: To give students the chance to develop project skills that will be invaluable at University, within apprenticeships and in the workplace, as well as enrich their own learning experience by exploring in depth a topic of close interest to them.
Projects can be in in the form of a dissertation -- an extended essay of around 6,000 words in which students plan, research, analyse and discuss a research question and then evaluate and review the project. Example dissertations have ranged from “Can the Partition be considered a genocide?” to “To what extent would legalisation of euthanasia affect the medical profession?
Alternatively, students can opt for an Artefact project -- an extended creative project in which students create an artefact with a portfolio with an accompanying 1,500 - 3,000 words. Students plan, research, analyse, develop and evaluate the production of the artefact. Example artefacts include students creating Illustrations for a children’s book, creating an animation based on Disney’s design principles, designing and making a pair of sneakers and a website aimed to help young people deal with their shyness.
The project will take the whole of year 12 to complete – half of this time is class time; the rest is done in your own independent time. The EPQ is a Level 3 qualification and worth half an A level and up to 70 UCAS points depending on the final grade. It is suggested that students spend at least an additional hour to each hour spent in the classroom working on their projects.
To support the transition into EPQ at Year 12, a Summer EPQ programme is provided on the school website for prospective EPQ students to work through, as often the best time to start the EPQ is during the summer holidays when time for thinking about a project available. This however is entirely optional for students.
The key element for students and parents to remember is that the EPQ is a project not a subject, and that the teaching role is primarily one of a mentor/supervisor role to facilitate and guide the student towards the independent completion of their project to deadline.
The course is structured in a way that allows students to complete relevant aspects of their project at points during the years to ensure that they are able to move onto the next stage of project development.
The first two half terms are focussed on the teaching of core project management and research skills that allow students to pick a topic carefully and develop, manage and refine it into a feasible proposal that can be achieved during the year. Students will be taught to demonstrate how to:
- search for information and write a question,
- plan a project,
- write and reference academically,
- evaluate critically,
- build and support arguments,
- record and reflect critically on their progress.
This first term allows students the thinking time and head space to explore their chosen topics at depth while allowing necessary time for refining and adapting or changing topics as necessary.
From the Spring term, students will spend the majority of their time completing research, writing up their Research Review and developing the Discussion aspect of their dissertation, or the Portfolio element and making of their Artefact. During this term, most teacher involvement is based on one-to-one engagement in lessons and receiving targeted feedback on the different elements of their projects. Students are also expected to evidence through their Project Logs how they are progressing in their project, how they are monitoring their progress against time scales and how they are addressing problems arising during the project.
The final term is focussed on students working towards submitting completed drafts of their projects which can be marked in depth and given back in a timely fashion for changes to be made. Students will also plan and present a presentation on how they managed their project, its strengths and weaknesses and lessons they have learnt from the process.
In some cases, students who are unable to complete their project by the end of Year 12, but who have progressed far enough, will be allowed an additional term at the beginning of year 13 to complete the project. This will be done entirely independently with discretionary additional support from the teacher.
The EPQ gives students the chance to explore something that really interests them and allows them to become more of an expert in this area, which is a deeply enriching experience. For a few, the EPQ will even determine their course of study at University.
The enrichment for the EPQ comes from doing the project itself. Depending on the project, students will find themselves visiting museums, galleries or archives in order to research their project. Many students undertake some form of primary research, which leads them to engage with a wide range of people, seek out professionals and develop interview and survey skills.
The EPQ not only helps develop skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, presenting and creativity but increases confidence, knowing that hard work has resulted in an extra qualification, expert knowledge, skills and experience that they might not otherwise have had.
Careers and future pathways
The Extended Project is now a highly regarded qualification by top universities due to the amount of independent research skills that students gain which mirror the skills required for university courses.
Certain universities now make offers based on students having done an EPQ. Southampton University has also conducted research comparing outcomes of students who enter courses having done an EPQ versus those who have not. Their research found that students with EPQs were not only more likely to complete the first year of courses but would proportionally end up with higher class degrees at the end of the course of study.
The EPQ also gives students something unique to talk about in interviews whether for university or for a job.
An EPQ could widen options for funding – UEA’s Bright Spark Scholarship (worth £3000) requires students to hold a research project qualification, such as an EPQ.
Overall, completing the EPQ allows students to strengthen their independence, self-motivation, organisation and problem-solving skills which will be necessary in any form of future pathway.