Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 13:25 UK

Extended project for all call

The extended project aims to develop independent study skills

All schools and colleges should give sixth formers the chance to study for an extended project, say exam boards.

They should have access to the extended project to prepare them for degree-level studies and for the world of work, the boards say.

The project, where pupils choose a topic to research, equivalent to half an A-level, is a compulsory element only in Diploma courses in England.

Pupils submit their work in a format of their choice, such as a dissertation.

Other formats include a composition, an investigative report or an artefact, backed up with a written piece.

Although the choice of topic is free, pupils must show the project is relevant to their educational or career aspirations.

Call for universal take-up

Now four examinations boards - Edexcel, OCR, AQA and CIE - together with England's qualifications authority (QCA), have come together at a conference at Rugby School in Warwickshire to voice their support for the option.

The boards fear it will only be made available to pupils in schools and colleges which are offering the Diploma, or in the independent sector.

Director general of AQA, Dr Mike Cresswell, said: "We hope that all sixth form students will have the opportunity to take an extended project.

We have found the extended project is genuinely ground-breaking and transformational
Patrick Derham, head master of Rugby School

"Whether students are moving into higher education or beginning their careers, studying for this qualification will provide real benefits."

David MacKay, head of the 14-19 curriculum at the QCA, said: "Extended projects can help students to develop and demonstrate a range of valuable skills through pursuing their interests and investigating topics in more depth.

"The government is considering whether to make the extended project an entitlement for all students studying the Level 3 [advanced level] and how quickly that might be done".

Speaking at the conference, Dr Geoff Parks, director of admissions at Cambridge University, said: "The potential benefits of extended projects are enormous.

"They give students the opportunity to get deeply involved in a subject that interests them, to develop research and critical thinking skills, to pull together learning from other subjects and to develop extended writing skills - all of which are hugely valuable preparation for university study.

"Cambridge is one of many universities which support extended projects as good preparation for degree-level study, but any stronger endorsement is prevented because they are not made available to all students."

Wind turbines

The QCA defines the project as a "flexible Level 3 qualification that will help candidates develop the skills required by employers and universities".

"They will learn how to plan, research, carry out, complete, present and critique a piece of work," the watchdog says.

Up to 100 pupils at Rugby School are working on extended projects.

Head master Patrick Derham said: "Taught properly, we have found the extended project is genuinely ground-breaking and transformational for both pupils and teachers.

"Our experience leads us to believe that it should be an entitlement for all."

Some of the extended projects being completed by pupils at the school include:

  • Is prenatal genetic screening and testing ethically justifiable?
  • Does science leave less room for free will?
  • If wind turbines are economically viable, why do they only provide 0.5% of our electricity requirements?
  • Is climate change no longer a scientific debate but a sociological and political problem?
  • What is a number?

It is estimated that 4,000 sixth formers in the UK will be awarded the extended project qualification this summer.

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