The EPQ: Equipping students to pursue a passion

The Extended Project Qualification is an independent research project offered to Sixth Form students by many British schools.  Sam Lenton, EPQ Coordinator at St Swithun’s School, tells us why it sits so well alongside the academic A Level curriculum.

‘It has truly been a rewarding experience and I enjoyed every part of it.’

For a teacher, this is the kind of feedback we dream of. Our lessons have been inspiring, our subject has captivated everyone in the room and our students will remember us forever. Whatever the world may say, I have made a difference and no-one can take that away from me.

These words were indeed uttered by a student at the end of her course (I have the email to prove it). Unfortunately – or, perhaps, fortunately depending on your perspective – it was a course in which the teacher takes a step back and the student grasps hold of that most tantalising of concepts: independence. Sure, the student may need a guiding hand every now and again, a prod in the right direction or a gentle word in the ear to keep them on track, but ultimately they are on their own.

The Extended Project Qualification is one of the most exciting experiences we offer our A-level students. White-water rafting and rope-free mountain climbing might provide the physical thrill you’re looking for, but nothing says ‘wish me luck’ quite as powerfully as embarking on the solo quest of the EPQ.

‘You can do anything you would like to do,’ we announce, as the new cohort tremble before us. ‘What are you passionate about? What would you like to look into further? What would you like to create?’

Nervous curiosity transitions into wonder. Uncertainty scrambles around for the solid footing that will provide the foundation needed to continue the journey. Enthusiasm builds as the dream becomes reality and discoveries open up pathways that never seemed possible.

It is our belief that the EPQ is too good an opportunity not to grasp. It won’t be the answer to everyone’s journey of self-discovery but for many it will provide a chance that will be ‘much cherished and appreciated’, to quote another student who has recently completed her ‘amazing experience’. For some that experience is baking a three-tiered wedding cake, while for others it is recording an album of original music or exploring the representation of mental illness in works of literature. This is the only course where the content is student-designed and student-led.

For the past two years, we have sought to move this opportunity onto the next level by inviting students to apply for a grant to cover research and production costs. We do not believe that money should be a barrier (within reason) and so do whatever we can to take away any constraints that might hinder creativity or exploration.

While the project thrives on the independence of the students, our team of supervisors offer expert insight to ensure each project is feasible and can reach the best possible outcome. Alongside this, the EPQ teacher delivers a course in transferable skills that are of enormous benefit to both the completion of the project and in preparation for university study. This solid base enables our students to flourish, nurturing the self-motivation and determination required to discover what they are truly capable of.

Students are seeking to change the world through their EPQ adventures, whether that be by creating more comfortable pens for those suffering from arthritis or engaging in ethical debates that cut to the heart of contemporary issues. The ‘rewarding experience’ may not refer to my lessons (not on this occasion, at least) but it relates to something much more important than that: a student pursuing their passions and producing work of which they can be extremely proud.