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A-level results 2014: Extended project overtakes geography and sociology after six-fold rise in entries

The number of A-levels sat this year may have dropped by 17,000, but another qualification designed to develop sixth-formers’ independent learning and research skills has bucked the trend with its fifth consecutive rise in entries.

This year, the extended project was sat by 33,200 students, up 9 per cent from 2013. Only eight A-level subjects were sat by more students, with the qualification proving more popular than established courses such as sociology, geography and economics.

But this only tells part of the little-known success story: the number of entries has increased six-fold since it was first taken in 2009 by just 5,100 sixth-formers.

It was initially created as a compulsory element of the ill-fated Diploma by the former Labour government, but has since evolved into a standalone qualification in its own right.

Most commonly, it takes the form of a dissertation of 5,000-6,000 words, which could be structured as an academic essay or research report. Alternatively, students also have the option of creating an artefact, such as a piece of art or a computer game, or staging a production, which could take the form of a charity event, fashion show or sports event.

Speaking at the launch of this year’s A-level results, AQA chief executive Andrew Hall said the extended project was in many schools replacing the general studies A-level, which saw a 24 per cent drop in entries from last year. This was the first year in which more students entered the extended project than general studies, which this summer was sat by 7,600 fewer students than in 2013.

“The extended project is a qualification that higher education [institutions] find attractive,” he said. “When we talk to them and schools talk to them, they say it’s not the qualification itself but it’s actually the development in skills, in research, writing and investigation, that they find particularly valuable in helping young people prepare for their university courses.

“To some extent, I think it’s replacing general studies as that fourth subject in a number of schools and colleges… I think that’s a qualification that’s straightforward to deliver in schools, and will continue to gain popularity.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the extended project was also highly regarded by employers.

“Think of the range of skills young people need in the workplace: communication skills, the ability to work independently, to solve problems, to research effectively and to write coherently,” he said. “All of these things employers tell us they need, over and over again.

“To undertake independent work of this kind over a long period really helps [students] to develop those transferable skills. I’m sure it will make them better students in higher education when they progress to that. But it makes them more employable as well.

“It also gives them an opportunity to pursue an area of particular interest they have by conducting a piece of research, or an in-depth study, of an area of interest. This is a really positive development and it complements what they will do through the other A-level courses they will follow, and allows them to add further depth and rigour to their studies.”

Related stories: 

Entries drop as cash-strapped schools cut provision - August 2014

Maths overtakes English to become most popular subject - August 2014

A* grades rise, but overall results drop - August 2014

Burnout, anxiety…and that’s just the staff - August 2014

Ofqual chief warns of exam results rollercoaster - August 2014

A-levels: Half of university hopefuls have no back-up plan - August 2014

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