Sixth formers mastermind specialist subject courses

SIXTH form students at RGS are embracing the opportunity to combine A-level studies with an extra qualification which allows them to explore a subject they feel passionate about.

More than 30 students are rising to the challenge of producing extended essays and presentations on a range of fascinating topics, from space travel engineering to design for dementia, protest music and the effects of globalisation on architecture.

The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is often compared to an end-of-year undergraduate paper, allowing students to explore and develop a deeper understanding about something they are interested in which is not covered by the school curriculum.

They mastermind their own course, choosing their own research question to explore in a 5,000-word essay, scientific study, performance event or product which they present to examiners.

Abigail Burke, 18, from Ripon, asked the question: “Can the UK be carbon zero by 2050?”

She feels it’s a particularly relevant topic, which will only grow in importance in years to come: “I plan to study engineering at university and potentially specialise in renewable energy. This, combined with my interest and passion for protecting our planet from the effects of global warming, led me to the question.”

Abigail says doing the EPQ has enabled her to gain valuable skills: “I have learned about citing and evaluating the reliability of sources. It also helped enhance my skills in organisation, presentation and essay writing, all of which will be very useful for university and beyond.”

Toby Saynor, 17, from Boroughbridge, was driven by his love of design: "I was glad I could choose my own topic. Interior design is one of those things I am passionate about and I decided to combine this with my own personal experience with dementia. Finding links between the two was interesting."

He also appreciated the chance to gain extra points for his university application: "I have acquired skills I can apply at university. My research skills have improved as well as learning how to footnote in an acceptable way. The presentation was also a great chance to practise public speaking."

Araminta Praud, 18, from Boroughbridge, is organising a charity paint race event to raise money for The Prince’s Trust.

She explained: “I wanted to be able to help others and give back to the community and The Prince's Trust supports young people who haven't had the same opportunities I've had. I decided on a Ripon Colour Dash paint race as it is a fun sport and encourages families to enjoy time together outdoors - rather than spending all day on screens

Araminta has set up Ripon Colour Dash Facebook and Instagram pages along with a website to promote her event and has secured a £1,000 contribution from a benevolent fund, as well as pursuing corporate sponsorship.

She has gained a multitude of skills: “It has been so much broader and more complex than I thought it would be. I’ve had to read legal documents and build a website, as well as focus on marketing. I’ve learnt how to create effective posters as well as which social media posts are most engaging, the most effective time to post and who my audience is. Time management has also been crucial - I receive and have to reply to messages throughout the day, ensuring I maintain a professional tone with customers and vendors at all times. There is so much more going on behind the scenes of an event than I’d ever imagined.”

Imogen Hayden, 17, from Leyburn, curated an exhibition of historic buttons: "One of the main things I learnt was how objects can reflect social pattern and changes. Our social history has changed rapidly over the past three centuries, becoming more industrialised as we have experimented with new technologies and chemicals. As a society, we have also become more wasteful, using plastics and harmful chemicals, instead of natural materials, to meet our durability and product needs, which has a detrimental effect on our environment."

Head of sixth form Terry Fell said: "As always, it is a real privilege to supervise students as they undertake EPQ studies on topics about which they are so passionate. This is such an outstanding opportunity for students to acquire and hone invaluable technical skills in project management, planning, research and presentation which they will take on to their university studies and into the careers that follow, and we know that universities and employers value this qualification very highly indeed.

"We particularly love the fact that the EPQ allows such a wide and diverse choice of topics that students can focus upon literally anything that interests them, encouraging intellectual curiosity, and allowing the individual to become an absolute expert in a specific facet of their chosen field."

Now offered by around 370 schools nationwide, the EPQ, which is worth half an A-level, has been running at RGS for ten years and is open to all sixth formers.