Podcast series two now available
Ways to listenGoogle Podcasts
Teacher Craig Barton is back with series two of Inside Exams, the podcast that gives you an access all areas pass to snoop around behind the scenes at AQA.
He’ll be meeting the people who write and mark your students’ exams, as well as pioneering teachers, to get answers to all the questions you ponder throughout the school day.
© AQA 2019
Creating choirs and befriending the librarian
Episode five | 10 June 2019
In this Inside Exams episode, Jennifer Obaditch, AQA's Head of Curriculum Projects, enlightens Craig Barton about how the EPQ can help students with their A-levels and university studies, as well as telling him about some of the most impressive projects she's come across. Craig also meets Julie Greenhough, who coordinates the EPQ at St Benedict's, to find out how they implement it.
Featured in this podcast
Craig Barton – Maths teacher, podcaster and author
Carlene – Biology teacher
Jennifer Obaditch – Head of Curriculum Projects at AQA
Julie Greenhough – Head of EPQ and centre coordinator at St Benedicts school
Read more about the research into EPQ and students’ performance:
Gill T, An analysis of the effect of taking the EPQ on performance in other Level 3 qualifications, Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 23, 1 (2016) [Accessed 24/05/2019]
Gill T, Preparing students for university study: a statistical comparison of different post-16 qualifications, Research Papers in Education, 33:3, 301–319 (2018) [Accessed 24/05/2019]
Gill T and Vidal Rodeiro CL, Predictive validity of level 3 qualifications: Extended Project, Cambridge Pre-U, International Baccalaureate, BTEC Diploma, Cambridge Assessment Research Report, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Assessment. (2014) [Accessed 24/05/19]
Jones B, Does the Extended Project Qualification enhance students' GCE A-level performance?, AQA Centre for Education Research and Practice, (2015) [Accessed 24/05/19]
Craig Barton: Hello and welcome to Inside Exams. I'm Craig Barton. I'm a maths teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. While I’m clued up on the differences between mode and median averages, I'm learning that there are quite a few different exams, awards and qualifications that I actually know very little about. So, across this series, I'm asking what else you'd like to know more about too, before seeking out the people who can answer our questions. Today I want to get to the bottom of this question, how can watching the musical Wicked, help a student prepare for higher education? I know, I was just as flummoxed as you. I asked because I heard about a student whose fascination with the award-winning musical, did help her secure a place at university. As well as studying for her A-levels, she found time for a qualification that saw her pouring over the script, cleverly identifying a plot line that hadn’t been fully developed. She even wrote and performed a new scene that joined the dots.
In doing all that, she learnt to work independently, and it empowered her to explore what her place in the wider world, outside our safe school bubble could be. As I'm now discovering, that's just a taste of how doing AQA's Extended Project Qualification, can be of immense value to students. This is all very new to me, and may be to you too. So, what else would you like to know?
Carlene: My name is Carlene, and I teach biology. The EPQ set up is brilliant to challenge the most able students, but I wonder what you think about the effort it takes to support those students, who aren't independently working, through the EPQ? Is it worth the time that it takes for them, and for the teachers, to chase them to complete the EPQ, when they should probably be focusing on their other studies? So, do you think the EPQ is the right choice for every student?
Craig Barton: Okay. So, what exactly is an Extended Project Qualification? And are the skills learnt only relevant to students, hoping to go on to higher education, or are they so universal, that they'd be useful for those going straight into jobs too? Jennifer Obaditch is AQA's Head of Curriculum Projects, and she used to supervise EPQs in the classroom too. So, she'll have a wealth of experience to share with us.
Jennifer, I am absolutely delighted to have met you today, because I am hoping you are going to help me understand one of AQA’s qualifications that, I’m going to be honest, I don't know a great deal about. So, it’s the EPQ. And I guess my first question is, what does it stand for?
Jennifer Obaditch: EPQ stands for Extended Project Qualification. And it's a unique qualification really for AQA. It’s A-level three qualification, so, it's the equivalent of an A-level, in A-level standard. It's worth half an A-level. But the wonderful thing about EPQ is that in a landscape of post reform A-levels where you've got really content rich specifications, you've got lots of content for students to learn, in a very packed syllabus, EPQ is student led. So, the student decides the topic they're going to study, the topic they're going to research. They decide what they're going to deliver in terms of the outcomes for their projects. And it's a non-examined assessment which means it’s entirely coursework. So, there's no exam at the end of EPQ.
The student hands in their project, they hand in a production log, which is a document that details all of their research, and their project process. They give a presentation to deliver the outcomes of their project. So, in a sense, it's like a university dissertation, and that's really what EPQ is modelled on. And what we're looking to do with EPQ is, to support students in developing those independent research and study skills that they will need to use in university, they'll use in their working life, and they’ll really use all the way through their careers.
Craig Barton: Wow, this sounds absolutely fascinating. I'm annoyed I've not heard of this before. So, let's just get into the nuts and bolts of this. So, you say it's worth half an A-level? So, is that, when we're talking UCAS points, and all that, it's literally half an A-level in terms of the points that it gains the students, to go to university, is that right?
Jennifer Obaditch: Yes, absolutely. So, EPQ is graded A* to E, and it’s worth half the points that an A-level would get at each of those grades. So, we very often see students take on EPQ, because they want to get the UCAS points, or they might want to develop an EPQ project so they can write about it in their personal statement, or talk about it at university interviews. And they’re all really wonderful positive things. What’s a quite nice hidden gem of the EPQ is, whilst the student is looking at that carrot, and the end outcome of the EPQ, what we see as teachers in the classroom is, the student developing some really wonderful skills, in terms of really growing as a human being, and growing as a young adult.
Because obviously you're taking a 16 year old and asking them to deliver a dissertation style project independently. But we teach them how to develop their projects, and, of course, they’re learning about themselves as they go along. They also have a supervisor in school, so, they've got a teacher that works alongside them, to provide them with support and guidance on their EPQ.
Craig Barton: This sounds something… again I'm annoyed here. I'm annoyed I didn't know about this, I'm annoyed I didn't do this as a student. This sounds absolutely ideal. Could you just give us an example of some of those taught skills? So, you mentioned referencing. What else is involved there? And I assume this is kind of generic, regardless of what area of content you choose for your EPQ, these taught skills are generic across all students, would that be right?
Jennifer Obaditch: It would absolutely be right. And lots of sixth forms will deliver the taught skills programme to all of their sixth form, regardless of actually whether they end up doing an EPQ. And the taught skills programme support the students in developing their project, right from the inception. One of the key things to realise about EPQ is the assessment is about the process, not the content of the EPQ report or artefact. So, we are assessing the students' ability to manage a project, to source information and do research, to critically evaluate the research information, and pull that together into their written report or their artefact, and we're assessing their ability to reflect on what they’ve been doing.
And so, the taught skills support those four assessment objectives. How to write academically, and how to produce an academic report, if that’s what you’re choosing to do. How to manage your progress, how to make decisions, you know? How many times have we decided to produce something, and gone down eventually a blind alley? And you've got to take that hard decision that actually this isn’t the right path to choose. How am I going to change this, how am I going to adapt what I’m doing, to be successful in delivering my projects? And those are some of the hidden skills really.
EPQ is very much student led. The student is making the decisions, the student is deciding when they meet with their supervisor, and they're arranging those meetings. And the supervisor will give the student advice, and they’ll discuss the options the student might have for the next stage of their project process, but actually it’s the student that finally decides what they're going to do next. And that's a really valuable part of EPQ because it's putting the learning in the hands of the students. And for some young people, it's the first time really in their school life, someone has said to them "Well what are you going to do? What do you think about that?" And that can be really powerful for young people in that quite tightly controlled busy sixth form life to have a little bit of space, to make their own decisions about their own learning, and what they want to find out.
Craig Barton: Let's talk about the students now, and in particular kind of two big choices the students sound like they have to make? One in terms of the content, and I want to come to that in a second, but also, you keep mentioning this word 'artefacts'? And kind of the outcomes that the students are delivering. Do you want to talk to me a little bit about that? What choices do the students have, in terms of how they present their finished EPQ?
Jennifer Obaditch: The student makes a choice of whether they’re going to present the outcomes of their research in one of two ways. They could either present the outcomes of their research in a 5,000 word written report, or they could present the outcomes of their research in what we call an artefact, and that’s a catch all term really. An artefact can be a three dimensional piece of artwork, for example, it could be an engineered piece of work, a robot or a model aeroplane that a student develops. It could be a play that they’ve written and produced, and directed. It could be an original musical composition. It could be a computer programme, it could be a website. You’re really only limited by your imagination.
The key thing with the artefact is, it's got to be grounded in that research. So, we do encourage students, and we encourage supervisors who are supporting students, to come up with their initial project ideas, do their initial project research, and then that should drive them as to what the outcome looks like. Is it better, as a written report, or is it better as an artefact? There was a lovely project I saw last year which was a student who was studying science A-levels actually, and his EPQ was investigating the benefits of singing through creating a community choir, which is really wonderful.
Craig Barton: That's lovely, absolutely lovely.
Jennifer Obaditch: Because you find some students do EPQ projects that perhaps support their interest in what they'd like to study at university. They might extend their learning beyond their A-level subjects. And some of the students do something completely different. And that's a good example of really the research for this project, and the work the student did in actually developing his own community choir, could have been delivered in a 5,000 word written report, he could have showed the outcomes there. In fact, what he chose to do was, have the community choir as his artefact. So, for this student, they wrote a shorter written report detailing their research, which they always need to do, but the actual outcome of the project was the community choir he set up, which was a wonderful achievement, I think.
Craig Barton: That's absolutely incredible. So, you’ve mentioned here, a few wide ranging EPQ projects. Are there any limits? Like if I’m a student, is there anything I couldn’t do my project on?
Jennifer Obaditch: You can't do your project on subjects or topics you are studying in your current course of study? So, if you’re a sixth form student and you're studying three A-levels, you can’t do your EPQ on any topic that you would be studying in those A-levels, and that’s quite obvious really. Why would you choose to do an EPQ on something you’re going to learn anyway?
Craig Barton: Of course.
Jennifer Obaditch: So, it has got to be an extension or a development beyond those subjects. Now that's not to say you couldn’t do an EPQ on a subject you're studying, as long as the topic is beyond the A-level specification. So, if you just touch on it in the A-level specification and a student is sitting in the classroom thinking, oh I'd love to know more about that, but we're not going to study anymore of that, then absolutely, they can use that to springboard into an EPQ. So, we do see that. We see students doing EPQs in subjects they think they might want to do at university, and we do see lots of EPQs on topics that are completely unrelated to sixth form life, and that’s a great chance to do something that you might have a personal passion for.
Or maybe actually post A-level reform, that fourth AS subject, that you no longer get to do in many schools, that might become a topic that you look at from EPQs.
Craig Barton: What are some of your favourite EPQs over the years? You’ve mentioned the singing one, it sounds absolutely brilliant. Any others that spring to mind?
Jennifer Obaditch: There was a wonderful artefact EPQ which was a science EPQ, and I’ll probably slightly misquote the title here. But the student wanted to test whether they could create the Aurora Borealis in the school laboratory.
Craig Barton: I'm glad you said that one, flipping heck.
Jennifer Obaditch: And that was a wonderful EPQ. So, that again, that was an artefact. They wrote a short report detailing the research and project process. And then the EPQ outcomes was the science experiment they had designed.
Craig Barton: Wow.
Jennifer Obaditch: Another one that sounds deceptively simple, I always loved the titles ‘Can I paint a picture of my cat?’ But it was a student that wanted to investigate how they could paint the most realistic picture of their cat, in terms of different media, artistic techniques. They went to a zoo, they looked at different animal pelts, they did lots of research in terms of animal portraiture over the years. So, you’ve got this very simple title, but actually behind it, there’s some really serious academic research. And, of course, the outcome, in that case, was the picture of the cat.
Craig Barton: Yes, that's incredible. I’m going to put my teacher hat back on now because I have two burning questions here. The first is, I’m just imagining a student coming to me saying "I’m going to do this EPQ on whether it’s the singing, the choir, or whatever it is." And I’m panicking straightaway, because I’m thinking, well I don't know anything about that, and therefore, how am I going to support them? So, is there kind of an extra workload, or an obligation on the teacher, to do a load of extra work, to try and support students through these EPQs?
Jennifer Obaditch: The workload in terms of the teacher is twofold. It’s having the time to have the meetings with the student, and it's also marking the project at the end of the process.
Craig Barton: Oh, Jeez, that was my second question, I was hoping I wasn't going to have to mark it.
Jennifer Obaditch: I'm afraid you can’t get away from that, you do have to mark the project. Now of course we advise that of course that is timetabled into the school life for a teacher, and we see that. And we're delighted to see actually, we see more and more schools making sure that EPQ is properly timetabled, and so, teachers have the time on their timetable to support students. But you don’t have to be an expert in the subject that the student is proposing. In fact, it’s better if you’re not. You are joining the student on their journey of discovery. What we find with teachers that are the expert on the student topic is, they tend to help them a little bit too much, and that can be a disadvantage for a student. We want the student to go and find the sources of information, and do the research. Go to the university library, use the internet, and academic journals found there.
What we don't want is, the teacher to take a whole load of books off their bookshelf and say "Here you go, these are the books that are perfect for your topic." Because that prevents the student from doing that research process themselves. So, the best supervisor student relationship is actually linking up a supervisor who doesn’t have a knowledge of the student topic.
Craig Barton: Now, I'm just thinking to some of my students. Some of them I'm thinking, okay you are going to absolutely love doing this. Some of them I'm thinking, you might not be the most suitable candidate. Now I've got my prejudices here, but I wonder, over the years, have you picked up what type of students get the most out of this process versus those that it’s perhaps not the most suitable for?
Jennifer Obaditch: The whole range of students can take EPQ. And we see some fantastic EPQs from the whole spectrum of ability at sixth form level. When EPQ first started about 12 years ago now, it was really aimed at perhaps the more gifted and able student in the sixth form, and seen as an extra thing they might be given to do. Now that has changed over the years, and we still do see some very able students take EPQ, with the view that that gives them the opportunity to explore to a higher level, an academic subject they might be interested in. But actually, EPQ is suitable for all, and the reason it’s suitable for all is this wide range of outcomes you can have for your project process.
We see students that are taking vocational programmes, and they can develop an EPQ on a particular aspect, extending from the vocational programme. We see students following very academic paths of study, and again they can take the EPQ focused on a particular academic interest that they have. Because it's a process the students work through, then we’re assessing their skills in multiple different ways. What we also see is, and this is precious to me, although, of course, the outcomes of EPQ in terms of grades and achievement are fantastically important, what’s really important is the personal development that students see, the empowerment of being given the opportunity to develop their own projects, and their own piece of work. The learning they go through in terms of how to manage that is really powerful for students.
So, EPQ is for all students, but that doesn’t mean all students have to do EPQ, or should be doing EPQ. I do think that there is still room in schools for giving students the option of whether to take it or not.
Craig Barton: One thing that's coming through here, and correct me if I'm wrong here, but, I guess there's a danger that you see this as some kind of qualification that will help you get into university, and maybe help you develop a few extra skills that will be important at uni. But these are life skills, aren't they? These are skills that are… whether you go to university or not, whatever course you decide to do, or whatever you decide to do with the rest of your life, the skills you’re learning during this EPQ, they’re invaluable.
Jennifer Obaditch: They are invaluable. And there’s a growing body of research actually that Southampton University have been engaging in, and other organisations, that suggest that EPQ not only supports students' progression in terms of the qualification to get to university, or get additional UCAS points, but students studying EPQ at sixth form, improve their achievement overall. The other interesting bit of research that’s coming out now is that students with EPQ appear to do better in their undergraduate programmes at university. So, they are getting better average grades in the first year of undergraduate courses. And again, not too surprising when you think about it?
Craig Barton: No, it's not, it's not.
Jennifer Obaditch: Because they're bringing those undergraduate study skills to university. They're walking in to university, perhaps feeling more comfortable about coping with that type of work.
Craig Barton: What would you have done an EPQ on?
Jennifer Obaditch: Well my teaching subjects are business and economics. So, I've thought about this quite a lot actually. I think I would have done my EPQ on the political economy of domestic service. I'm interested in hidden informal economies and I have a sort of research interest in feminist economics. So, my EPQ would have been something along those lines. So, yes.
Craig Barton: Very different to how the best way to paint a cat is. So, it's an incredible qualification.
Jennifer Obaditch: It certainly is.
Craig Barton: I came into this conversation knowing very little, I’m now an EPQ convert.
Jennifer Obaditch: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Craig Barton: Jennifer, thank you so much for your time today.
Jennifer Obaditch: Thank you Craig.
Craig Barton: Now that I know so much more about the value of the qualification, I want to find out about the realities of implementing it in schools. And actually, it would be good to find out if there are ways we can all teach some of these vital life skills, even if our students aren't doing an EPQ. Jennifer mentioned the importance of supervisors. So, I'm going to meet Julie Greenhough, who coordinates St. Benedict's EPQ programme, to find out more.
So, Julie, first off, thank you so much for inviting us here today, it is an absolute pleasure to meet you. And I'll tell you why I'm so excited. This EPQ thing, it's a whole new world to me. I didn't have a flipping clue about it, and now I’m getting all excited about it. And I believe… now, correct me if I'm wrong here, you are Head of and Centre Coordinator, would that be right?
Julie Greenhough: I know. Yes, that’s a very fancy title.
Craig Barton: It is a good title.
Julie Greenhough: Isn’t it? I know.
Craig Barton: What I’m hoping to get into here is, what it actually looks like, in a school-based context? Because I’m keen for taking this on myself, so, hopefully you’re going to be the person to inform me, and inspire me with that. So, start me off at the beginning. How did you first get involved with EPQ?
Julie Greenhough: Like most people, it was a bit of a surprise. Back in 2010, here at St. Benedict’s, we’d had a school inspection, and one of the recommendations was that we needed to offer more stretch and challenge. And I’d vaguely read something, and this would probably be around May time, in the school year, I’d vaguely heard something about EPQ, mentioned it in passing to the Head, and he was like "Well go find out about it then." So, I looked, and they were offering training sessions in London. We needed supervisors, we needed a Centre Coordinator. So, I had to come back the following week, and do the supervisor training as well. Went back to my headmaster, said "I think this is brilliant, this is just the opportunity that we need. Shall we think about bringing it in here at school?" And he said "Well I’d like you to run with that from September", and this was mid-June.
Craig Barton: Wow.
Julie Greenhough: Yes. So, I was like "Okay." Because you know like as teachers, we just say yes, don't we? "Oh yes, I’ll do that, yes, that’s no problem." And then realised that there weren’t that many people that I knew who were doing it. I had no idea where to go for resources, or anything. So, we started with a pilot for about half a dozen of our more able students, and I taught that myself. If you have less than 20 students in a school, you can be the Centre Coordinator and the supervisor, which is useful to know, if you’re starting off.
Craig Barton: Yes.
Julie Greenhough: And I did the whole thing from scratch, and it has just grown and grown and grown.
Craig Barton: Flipping heck. Now talk me through this because it’s stressful enough for me, whenever I have to teach a new maths qualification, or exam paper, or something, for the first time, and I’ve got to get to grips with all resources, and all that kind of stuff. But I’m hearing you here, its June time? You’re hearing about this qualification for the first time? It’s not the summer wind down this, you know? The stress levels are rising.
Julie Greenhough: Yes.
Craig Barton: What was that first year like? Was it kind of just trying to keep one step ahead?
Julie Greenhough: Yes. But I didn’t do it solely on my own. You have to remember, if you work in a school, that your colleagues are very well qualified. So, the librarian is your best… should be your best friend really, because they are skilled in archiving and finding sources. You have colleagues who can teach things like sociology, who can talk about research methodology. I’ve got other colleagues who used to be academics, and have published, and they can talk about research ethics. So, it was quite a collaborative approach between the pilot group, and my colleagues. It still is. We invite them to come and talk about their experiences of research. Lots of colleagues, as you know, are probably in the process of doing a Masters degree as well. So, I invite them to share their research experiences with us.
Craig Barton: Because I guess one of the dangers is, particularly year 12 and 13, it’s such a stressful time for kids. And they’re busy, and they’ve got stuff going on in their lives, but also, they’ve got a hell of a lot of A-levels, or whatever, to study for. And there’s a danger that this can be seen as, oh, it’s an additional thing that they’ve got to do on top. I guess two questions really. Do you find that students are able to balance out that kind of workload, and prioritise? And also, does doing the EPQ actually benefit their other A-level studies in any ways?
Julie Greenhough: In a word, yes. At the moment, in our school, some of that is anecdotal. I do have colleagues, particularly in other humanities subjects, who come along and say “I can tell which of the students have done the EPQ by looking at their history coursework, their English coursework, whatever it is, because they’re the ones that can do in tech citations, a proper bibliography, who can engage critically. So, yes, there is a suggestion that there’s evidence for that. But on the science side, again, I have colleagues who say how much better their science student’s written expression has become, and their questioning skills. Because it’s not subject based, is it?
Craig Barton: Yes.
Julie Greenhough: It’s not about learning chunks of knowledge, in that way, it’s about … we use the phrase ‘independent learning’ and that gets bandied around quite a lot, doesn’t it? Now it’s a bit of a kind of empty catch all. Actually, what I like to think of it as is more kind of like blended learning skills. It teaches you how to learn, and it also teaches you how to manage, when you have a difficulty. Sometimes in life it’s easier to just stop and not face the difficulty, but that won’t help you later on in life, will it, when you’re an adult? You have to face the challenges. And the whole point of the EPQ is that you face the challenge, you find a route round it, through it, over it, and you record that, and you reflect upon that. So, this ongoing cycle of research, and reflection, I think, is really helpful for students. Every student cohort that I’ve had, they’ve all had a crunch point.
If I had a pound for every time one of the students wasn’t able to balance their priorities, I’d be quite a wealthy woman. Because time management is always the thing, the crunch point, no matter if you’re a very able student, and you’re very academic, or perhaps academia is not your forte. Time management is absolutely crucial. But that’s where having a good relationship with your supervisor. I think now that most schools offer the three A-level options, as opposed to the AS, to the A2s, at that point, that was very stressful for students. But now, if you’re doing three A-levels, as most students are, and you can do your EPQ during your lower sixth year, which is what we do here, then you’ve finished it by the summer of your lower sixth, and that gives you an opportunity then to focus.
It also means that by finishing it at the end of the summer term of the lower sixth, the student is in a position to start writing about it for their UCAS supporting statement. So, all of the skills that they’ve learnt, regardless of their subject area, they can showcase then. So, if there are any centre coordinators listening, and I hope there are, my advice would be to embed it in your timetable, through the lower sixth year, and to follow that route. My experience has said that that’s the best time to do that.
Craig Barton: Would you say that it’s not the case that it’s just for (a) your most able, and (b) the kids who are wanting to go to university? Has it got wider appeal than that?
Julie Greenhough: Yes, absolutely. I had one male pupil in particular, and he was really struggling with A-levels. I don’t really think academia and sixth form life was really for him, and he didn’t know what he wanted to do. And he did the EPQ, and without wishing to sound over romanticised about the whole thing, it did actually change his life. Because he was really interested in music and music technology. And he did his EPQ on, why do horror films make you feel scared?
Craig Barton: Wow.
Julie Greenhough: He couldn't play an instrument, but he was very interested in the kind of recording side of things. So, he researched the history of horror films, from silent movies through black and white to colour. The director of music was very helpful, taught him how to use our recording studios. He recorded a "scary piece of music" and he played that over a clip from a Disney film. The school nurse helped him learn how to take people’s pulse rate, and he recorded how people really felt when watching the same Disney clip with the original music, with no music, and with his scary music over it, to work out why we have a reaction to certain sounds and pitches and instruments. And as a result of him doing that, not only did he gain skills, did he gain confidence, did he believe in himself as a learner, but he also then applied to a college, to do music technology, and he’s pursuing that as a career, which he probably wouldn’t have done, if he hadn’t done the EPQ.
Craig Barton: That is fantastic. Well if we've got teachers listening to this who, like me, have been inspired by that now, they’re thinking, right, I want to get this. I'm signing up to this EPQ, this sounds ideal, one bit that’s scaring me a little bit is, teaching those, for want of a better phrase, those generic skills that are needed for this, the researching, the presentation skills, the academic writing, what do those lessons look like where you teach those skills?
Julie Greenhough: They're not necessarily like a traditional lesson, and they don't all take place in a classroom in school. So, I've mentioned about finding out which of your colleagues in school have any kind of research skills that you could draw on. I couldn't do what I do without our school librarian. She has a Masters in archiving.
Craig Barton: Wow.
Julie Greenhough: Exactly. And people tend to not know that. She is very good at getting in resources from outside companies to create digital databases. And I would also recommend going out of the classroom.
Craig Barton: Oh right.
Julie Greenhough: Yes. We're based in London, but you can go to… the Welcome Institute offer research sessions for schoolkids of all ages, and they don't charge. You can go to the British library, they're just absolutely brilliant. They offer things called, digital matters, research skills, and they don't charge for those at all. And just going to the British Library itself is brilliant. Contact your local Outreach department. We've had the University of Leeds come all the way down to West London, and not charge, and do a whole day's worth of taught element sessions, which has just been fantastic. If you've been to a university yourself, as a teacher, which most teachers obviously have, get in touch with the alumni department.
I take my students along to the Institute of Education, they get to see the doctor or students do their poster presentations. It's a very collaborative approach.
Craig Barton: I want to just go back to the students just for a moment. In your experience, which part of the EPQ do they find the most difficult?
Julie Greenhough: They struggle, I think, particularly now, in this era of fake news, bias in sources. The courses at the British Library are brilliant for that, because they will deliberately lead them down the wrong avenue, and show them how websites can look incredibly credible, but be completely false. And all students need to know that, because there’s a lot of misinformation out there. And asking for help.
Craig Barton: Oh really?
Julie Greenhough: Yes. Some students find it very difficult to say that they're struggling, that's why you have to have a really good team of supervisors, who can support and guide the student through those difficult moments.
Craig Barton: And correct me if I've got this wrong Julie but, are you starting the EPQ with younger students, even year nines, is this right?
Julie Greenhough: Well it’s actually… yes. We've done a couple of pilots with the HPQ, which is a level 1, and a level 2, and that's equivalent to more study at GCSE. Our current headmaster is very keen on developing blended learners. As a result of his enthusiasm for it, we’ve just done two pilot studies, in the last two academic years, with students doing it throughout year nine, and they’ve done just amazing. And now we’re going to embed it in the curriculum at our school so that every student in year eight –
Craig Barton: Year eight?
Julie Greenhough: – Yes. We're going to do it in year eight. But it isn't about the result at the end. So, it doesn't matter to us what grade they get at the end of that. What matters is that they've gained the research skills, they’ve learnt about themselves as a learner, and that will make them a better pupil as they then move throughout the school. It will support them ready for their GCSEs and then when they come to us in the lower sixth to do their EPQ, they're in a much better position.
Craig Barton: If, like me, there are teachers listening to this thinking, I've got to get involved in a bit of this EPQ action here, what's the best way to start? Where do they need to go, what do they need to think about?
Julie Greenhough: You need to go onto the AQA website, and you need to sign up for the CPD sessions. Now is a good time of year to do that because exam classes have gone. So, June is the month to go and do that. You could contact me, very happy to do that. You can find me on Twitter at EPQ Guru, but AQA is your first point of call.
Craig Barton: Well Julie, I have… I thought I'd learnt loads when I spoke to AQA about this, but I've learnt even more, and I'm even more excited about it.
Julie Greenhough: Great. I'm going to get you down then to sign up.
Craig Barton: It's brilliant to know that there are people like Jennifer and Julie who are so keen to support students through what can be quite a daunting transition into higher education, or a career. And not just support, but really help them find their passion and thrive. Getting kids out of the normal classroom environment, whether that’s into the school library, or out to a museum, feels particularly useful. If you’d like to find out more about how an EPQ could help your student succeed at university, just head to the podcast show notes. You can also find a brilliant video featuring a student talking through her project there too.
As the series continues, I'll be probing more exam writers, markers and pioneering teachers. So, if you want to swot up this exam season, make sure you rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Until next time, goodbye.