Lift-off for new grade as first 50 A*s are awarded
Projects ranging from why the Luftwaffe lost the Second World War in the air to a Wallace and Gromit-style animation entitled Winter Ted have been given the first A* grades at A-level.
Out of 373 entrants for the new AQA and City Guilds extended project qualification (EPQ) in November last year, 50 pupils received the top grade.
The EPQ is a compulsory part of the AQA baccalaureate and diplomas, but can be offered as a free-standing level-3 qualification to "stretch" A-levels students.
It is worth half an A-level, with the first full A* grades at A-level not being awarded until 2010.
The topic of the project is chosen entirely by the student and then agreed by the teachermentor who will be providing help for its duration.
Teachers involved with the qualification say students who have taken part are often in a better position when it comes to gaining places at universities than contemporaries studying for conventional A-levels.
Charlie Taylor, a deputy head at Turton High School Media Arts College in Bolton, where three pupils achieved A* grades, said: "It shows off the student's ability for independent learning, which is very appealing for universities.
"We have close ties with Bolton and Manchester universities, who see these pupils undertaking these projects and already view them as first-year students."
Teachers also told The TES that the EPQ can help pupils gain an edge at university interviews.
Kevin Knibbs, a deputy head at the independent Hampton School, in south-west London, said students are required to present their project in public, which can help their performance in interviews "enormously".
"We had one student who presented his Luftwaffe and its defeat during the Second World War project to the entire school - more than 1,000 people - and he received a standing ovation," he said.
The school saw 10 students achieve A* grades for their projects.
Mr Knibbs believes the process can be enormously rewarding not only for the pupil but also for the teacher who acts as project mentor.
"It gives teachers a chance to go into greater depth in certain topics, possibly areas that they have a particular interest in just as much as the student does. Many of our staff found it fulfilling."