SIXTH FORM: Why we're minding our EPQs

Sixth form students are stretching their minds by writing mini-dissertations on a range of riveting subjects, from the threat posed by biological agents to how music therapy can treat autism, the viability of string theory and the ethics of exploring outer space. Sixth former POPPY ROBINSON reports on these extended essays and presentations, worth half an A-level, which provide good preparation for university

AROUND 50 students have undertaken the challenge of an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) alongside A-Level studies at Ripon Grammar School this year. An EPQ is often compared to an end-of-year undergraduate paper, enabling students to pick up invaluable skills in critical thinking, debating complex ethical issues, planning, researching and problem-solving.

Candidates choose a research question to explore in a 5000-word essay and must give a presentation to showcase their results and the journey they took. They can also enter a scientific study, perform an original work such as a short play or make a product – such as the Alexander McQueen dress created by RGS student Emma Money this year – alongside a 1,000-word essay.

Many students have been presenting their projects in front of assembled audiences in an ‘EPQ marketplace’ specially set up in the sixth form block. I interviewed five candidates to find out more about how they found the challenge.

: A recreation of an Alexander McQueen garment (artefact)
Why did you choose this EPQ?

I want to do fashion design at university and in the past year I’ve been really interested in the designer Alexander McQueen. I wanted to create a physical product, so I settled on my favourite dress design within a recent collection. I already had some design skills from my product design and art A-Levels, but I really wanted to refine them within an independent research and design process.

Did you enjoy the process?

Definitely, it has taught me a lot about planning and managing my time, but I have also learnt a lot of technical skills in terms of sewing. Though it was hard work I’m proud of the outcome and it’s placed me in great standing for university.

BILLY HUGHES: How should we explore and colonise space?

Why did you choose this EPQ?

I’ve always been interested in space, and I wanted to do something related to law (the course I’m going to undertake next year). I first explored international space law and considered what improvements could be made to it. However, as I researched further, the ethical and social aspects seemed more dominant and interesting when discussing space travel, therefore I decided to focus upon these.

Did you enjoy the process?

The process was really enjoyable as I was able to lose myself in research that I was genuinely interested in, all while knowing the information was going to good use. It never felt like a chore because I actually wanted to find out the answer to the question. And overall, I feel it’s strengthened my university application as I’ve shown that I can engage with the subject academically outside of my A-Levels.

: How effective is music therapy in treating autism spectrum disorder?

Why did you choose this EPQ?

Initially, I knew that I wanted to do an EPQ on music therapy but wasn't sure about which context or situation I wanted to study. I watched a YouTube video about the use of music therapies in prisons, as well as a clip from the TV programme Educating Yorkshire about a student who listened to music to help him with his difficulties with public speaking. Both of these really interested me, but I found it hard to find further research on either of these topic areas, so I had to find something else. I noticed there was an abundance of research evidence on music therapy and autism, so this was something I decided to investigate further. However, it wasn't just mere convenience that caused me to do this - I have a keen interest in autismand its place in the context of modern society. I have somewhat strong opinions on the neurodiversity movement, and how, when taken to its extreme, it can deny treatment to autistic people who want it, in spite of its ostensibly tolerant and positive stance. Therefore, I feel strongly that we 

should provide treatments to autistic people who genuinely want them, instead of presuming to understand their experiences and pressuring them to 'take pride' in their autism and view it as a part of their identity if they don't want to. This is why I think the search for effective treatments is so crucial.

BETHANY HAMBY: How do the successes and failures of the Provisional Government of 1917 compare with the current Russian Government?

Why did you choose this EPQ?

While studying the Cold War as part of my A-Le

vel history course, I was intrigued by Russian history and politics; therefore, I undertook an EPQ exploring this area. Furthermore, the topic is very prevalent in the news at the moment and I wanted to research something applicable to the current political understanding. I also knew that the EPQ would put me in good standing for university next year, especially since I want to study history.

Did you enjoy the process?

Yes, I’ve found that my organisational and time-management skills have greatly improved which will be vital for university. The independent style of learning also helped me really focus on the topic. The EPQ marketplace was also great as I got to see everyone else’s projects, there was a massive range and they all seemed really interesting.

Poppy Robinson discusses the main influences upon Catalan modernist architect Antoni Gaudi i Cornet and his works

: What is the viability of string theory?

Why did you choose this EPQ?

I wanted an insight into the cutting edge of physics, a topic which I believe is vital to understanding the world. I chose string theory in particular as it’s the leading attempt to explain what’s unknown in physics, therefore very relevant to our current world. It was an added advantage to gain a qualification whilst doing something that I love.

Did you enjoy the process?

The EPQ really helped me refine my time-management skills, which I really felt needed improving! Furthermore, it helped develop my research skills ahead of university, and I found it helped my university application, being brought up in an interview. Throughout the course of the EPQ I formed my own opinion about string theory, realising that it was more flawed than I originally thought, and my understanding of scientific theories has developed as a result.

Emma Money's Alexander McQueen creation, Harvey Leek-Smith assesses engineering solutions to subsidence caused by gypsum in Ripon; Gus Smith on the main economic effects of high industrial concentration and monopolies and Libby Rickard on how prepared the UK is for the threat posed by biological agents.

A selection of our students' EPQ displays, below: