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Ten good reasons for offering project qualifications
By Eddie Playfair – Senior Policy Manager, Association of Colleges
AoC has developed a Project Excellence Award in partnership with education charity AQA to showcase some of the excellent project work coming from college students and to promote the educational benefits of project qualifications.
Student projects are a great way to enhance the learning of all students, not just to accredit the skills of those who are already high performing. We think there is a lot more potential for project work across the full range of general and vocational programmes and at all levels, and there are at least ten reasons for offering project qualifications to more students.
- Are accessible to all students: they are available at Level 1 (Foundation Project), level 2 (Higher Project) and Level 3 (Extended Project), meaning that students can engage at the appropriate level for them and then progress to higher levels as they develop their skills and confidence.
- Allow students to choose what to work on: providing space in the curriculum for students to shape their own programme and follow their own interests. Students can choose to investigate a question they are already interested in, to deepen their understanding of something related to their main study programme or to make a new connection between different topics.
- Support the development of criticality: by being based on a challenge or a question which is of interest. Students have the opportunity to read, research and think deeply about something and also to help evaluate the work of others. This supports the development of a questioning approach and a critical outlook.
- Support the development of essential skills: such as project management, time management, information retrieval, evaluation of evidence, research and collaboration.
- Support interdisciplinarity: by crossing subject boundaries and allowing for connections between different fields of knowledge, integrating skills and knowledge from across students’ learning and experience.
- Encourage creativity and innovation: through the connecting of different ideas and perspectives.
- Support collaboration: projects need not be seen as purely individual task but as a form of socially produced knowledge generated by a community of practice where everyone can contribute useful ideas and suggestions.
- Celebrate mastery: project work is a process but it also leads to a product. The outcome can be a summative ‘masterpiece’ which represents the best of a student’s achievement so far. This ‘capstone’ project is a report, an artifact or a performance which students can be proud of and share widely.
- Can serve a wider social purpose: if project briefs are shaped by ‘real world’ community or employer challenges or students’ lived experience they can generate outcomes of wider use which can make a difference in people’s lives. This could be a campaign, a new solution to problem or a new insight into a social issue.
- Build student confidence: Students can gain confidence by taking responsibility for producing something well-researched and useful which is recognised by others as being useful and of good quality. This is a good foundation to support their commitment to lifelong learning.
Project qualification entries have been rising steadily although they are still only offered to a small proportion of college students, the vast majority at Level 3. This great blog from AQi describes how working on an Extended Project Qualification can support the development of metacognition and improve student achievement across their studies.
For the full educational potential of this approach to be realised, colleges would need dedicated funding over and above the basic study programme. There would also need to be more training for staff to support students with projects.
The AQA / AoC Project Excellence Award aims to celebrate the most interesting, exciting and inspirational student projects from Higher and Extended Project Qualifications. We want to recognise the fantastic range of research and artefacts produced and the skills developed by students. Projects will be recognised not for the grade awarded but for their originality, innovation, approach to research and potential to be of wider social benefit. The award is exam board neutral and open to all AoC member colleges.
Last year we received a variety of interesting and high-quality submissions which can be viewed here, we hope to increase the number of submissions for this year. Colleges can submit entries from the 2023 exam series up until 18 September and we would especially welcome applications from projects which produced artefacts, from HPQs, and from students taking a project alongside VTQs. Further details are available on our website here: Association of Colleges (aoc.co.uk)