The Extended Project Department was formed at the College in 2010 after a couple of years of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) being run single-handed and largely focused on Astronomy. There is now a dedicated Extended Project Centre where all teaching (seven sets) takes place. The College was part of the 2007 national pilot for the Edexcel qualification and from four astronomers (the initial involvement was to provide a method of continuing Astronomy post-GCSE) the numbers have grown, so that now some 80 pupils start the two-term course (50% girls). The Extended Project gives pupils the chance to embark on a serious piece of research akin to a first year university study that plays to their academic and other interests (perhaps hobbies) and also their learning style. Whereas the majority of pupils complete dissertations, we are perhaps unique in supporting a truly open/unrestricted choice of project outcome, so that in 2017, 40% of projects were not dissertations. Though initially (and still) offered in both Upper and Lower Sixth it has become clear that it is best attempted in the first year; as long as a project is safe, ethical, legal, supportable and affordable it can be taken on. The outcomes can be a dissertation of 6,000 word length or a more scientific investigation, involving statistical analysis of data, or a performance where an audience is present, perhaps an art exhibition, concert or play or an artefact, which may be a portfolio or composition or physical item or even a restoration project. There are no bounds. In the 11 years here, 450 projects have been completed with an A*/A percentage of 76.5%.Though 80 or so start, finishing numbers range from 40 to 60, as some find the hurdles too great and the time commitment too much.
The course we run is based on the Edexcel Qualification and Specification, which uniquely allows pupils to enter specifically one of the four units with different outcomes: Dissertation, Investigation, Performance or Artefact. We have opted for a short course of two terms so that the project is completed and finished by Easter of the Lower Sixth. The Qualification is Level 3, that is A level standard, and as such is awarded up to A* grade. Certificates are issued with associated UCAS points (50% of an A level) in August. The projects are marked internally by the Tutor-Assessors and then internally moderated by the Head of Department, before a sample is sent off in early May. As a 100% internally marked piece of work, the pupils are informed of the mark to be submitted for external moderation, though the grade boundaries will not at that stage be known. The projects are marked on four key skills: time management, research and referencing, synthesis and argument and evaluation and communication. These skills are the reason for the desirability by universities and the work place for the course. Now the EPQ is better known, there are a growing number of universities which are shading entrance requirements (by as much as three grades) if an EPQ has been undertaken. The Project is completed by a 10-minute examined viva or oral presentation, which again is a skill much valued. The tutorials end at Lent half-term after which the taught course resumes to prepare for the oral exams. Five lessons a fortnight are allocated to a pupil’s timetable and from September to Michaelmas half-term these are used for a taught course where they are introduced to the project structure and the skills of research and referencing and critical thinking required. For 12 to 13 weeks the pupils are then allocated a 1:1 tutor who will meet them once a week in a prearranged slot. The tutors choose the projects by title without knowledge of the pupil’s identity.
Enrichment comes from the pupils’ own research. The high levels of motivation required originate from ownership of the project and from being able to go far wider and deeper than any conventional secondary level course. Most will have email contact or liaise with experts in their fields of study. Many will travel to art exhibitions, sports meetings, lectures and university seminars. Some will base projects on work experience, both in UK and abroad. Visiting speakers across departments throughout the year provide a rich resource for EP pupils. There is a significant bank of past A* projects and the College Library not only stocks or purchases books relevant to particular projects, but offers 1:1 guidance sessions on research techniques.
C E Barclay BSc (Hons) FRAS FRSA ACIEA (Head of Department)
Mrs S Shearn BEd
S Dennis MBE BSc MSc DIC ARCS
Each year some 20 to 30 Common Room also act as Tutor-Assessors.