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Four steps to EPQ success

“A poor life this if full of care/We have no time to stand and stare,” wrote WH Davies in his famous poem Leisure. Teachers no doubt feel a pang of recognition when they hear those words: today’s students rarely get to stop and think about what they are learning.

While many accept that as just the way things are, Dr John Taylor, head of philosophy at Rugby School, was different. As part of his role at exam board Edexcel, he decided to try to force contemplative study into the curriculum.

“I’m a great believer in the educational value of spending time simply talking about ideas with students,” says Taylor. “The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) was the result of this quest to allow more scope for rich, exciting learning.”

The EPQ was designed to give students time to ask those deeper questions and learn how to use them as a starting point for research, development and reflection. It is equivalent to half an A-level and students are expected to make personal choices about the objectives of their project.

Sample questions include: “Should we allow direct-to-consumer genetic testing?”, “Should sharia be incorporated into the British justice system?” and “Is global warming a lot of hot air?”

“Conversation that raises deeper questions about a subject acts as a potent catalyst, stimulating thought and enriching learning,” says Taylor. “Education comes alive at times like these, ceasing to be a pedestrian plod through learning outcomes or soulless spoon-feeding and teaching to the test.”

But how do you ensure you get the EPQ right? Well, in the 6 March issue of TES, Taylor provides eight steps to EPQ success. Four of them are listed below.

1 Think first, act later
Deciding on the aims and objectives of the project is a crucial process, so students are advised not to rush in. Remind them that they don’t need to choose the objectives on the very first day of the course. It does no harm at all to spend a few weeks reflecting on possible topics, undertaking preliminary research and discussing the various avenues before making any firm decisions.

2 Track progress
Once the project is under way, the golden rule for students is to write as they go. It is always tempting to spend a little more time reading, researching and reflecting. But without a written record of progress, it is easy to run into time management problems as deadlines start to loom.

3 Find a suitable focus
The vast majority of students begin with ideas that are simply too broad or too ambitious to be manageable within the scope of a sixth-form project. But don’t be dismissive of their initial thoughts, however unrealistic. Instead, invite them to do some research to see what aspects of their topic are being discussed by other people. What might be achievable in practical terms with the resources and time available?

4 Set regular deadlines
Given the size of the EPQ, it can be enormously helpful to agree a series of milestones for the different sections of the project – set deadlines for these as a way of dividing what can be a daunting task into manageable sub-tasks. You might also choose to set course-wide deadlines so that all EPQ students march in step. This can make it easier to monitor progress across the cohort.

 Read the full article in 6 March edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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