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Call for extended projects to be made compulsory

Dissertations could stop A-level grade-chasing - but they must be available to all, warns admissions chief

Ministers must ensure that all schools offer extended projects at A-level to counter a culture in which pupils chase grades instead of knowledge, a top university's head of admissions has said.

The projects - worth half an A-level - that could involve university-style dissertations and allow pupils to show they can work independently.

Addressing a Westminster Education Forum event in London last week, Angela Milln, director of student recruitment at Bristol University, said the projects were an "exciting" development because they can help to stimulate pupils' interest in learning across different subjects.

But she told The TES that her university could not give the projects the weight they deserved for admissions as the Government had not made it compulsory for all schools to offer them.

"At the moment, we could say to the student, 'We might reduce one of your other offer grades by a grade if you have achieved well in the extended project,'" Ms Milln said.

"But what is very difficult for us to do is to actually incorporate that in our standard requirements for any student that comes forward - because that risks disadvantaging a group of students who, through no fault of their own, are not able to follow it."

Focus groups of admissions tutors at the university conducted two years ago revealed that they felt new students were more concerned about grades than learning, lacked subject knowledge and were unable to make links between different aspects of their studies.

"There was a tendency towards grade-chasing - a sense that learning wasn't important unless there was an assessment or grade at the end of it," Ms Milln said.

The projects were introduced in September for A-level pupils. Typically, they might involve a 5,000-word dissertation, a report with findings from an investigation or study, or a short film or piece of music.

Titles of projects during a pilot scheme last year included: "Effects of global warming on Inuit populations"; "What is the best solution to the quantum mechanical problem?"; and "An investigation into whether Asbos are an effective method of solving antisocial behaviour".

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesperson said it was considering making the extended project an entitlement for all pupils and was looking at how quickly it could be done.

The Department said it would consider the impact on teachers and schools.

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