IPQ and GCSE Plus: how to lockdown-proof your students

Student independence

When schools were closed in response to Covid-19, everything changed. Overnight, teachers and students had to adapt to a completely different way of working. Technological platforms that enabled remote teaching and learning suddenly became part of everyone’s life.

There has never been anything like it.

Part of this (very steep) learning curve was the level of independence it required of students, especially the older ones. Teenagers preparing for GCSE and A-levels are already expected to work far more independently than their younger peers but this was a whole new level: no chance to share ideas with classmates, fewer opportunities to discuss concerns or clarify important concepts with teachers. It’s no wonder that many older teenagers found the experience isolating, scary and highly challenging.

Whilst the recent lockdown is unprecedented, the idea of students struggling to adapt to the more independent nature of GCSE and A-level study is nothing new. In 2008, the UK education system recognised this and set up the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to sit alongside traditional A-levels, giving students the opportunity to explore a topic of interest in greater depth, gain vital research and critical analysis skills, and understand how to work independently. It proved incredibly popular, and now over 30,000 UK students take an EPQ each year.

When the pandemic hit and schools around the world were forced to close their doors, the skills fostered by extended project work were exactly the skills students needed to manage this new way of working – and schools found that students undertaking some kind of extended project were far more successful in handling the transition.

This makes very obvious sense. We already know from extensive research that students taking an extended project qualification are more likely to be successful in their other A-levels, that the skills they acquire through the process of completing the project cross-pollenate across all their studies and enhance their outcomes. When students were forced to work without direct teacher support due to the pandemic, it was clear that those who had already learned research and analysis skills, critical writing, self-motivation, time management – and all the other attributes project work embeds – found the transition easier and were more likely to succeed.

An uncertain future

Nobody can predict what the future holds. Most schools have reopened but not all, and many are delivering a mixture of classroom and remote teaching. The threat of future closures is very real and schools are rightly planning for that possibility.

OxfordAQA’s Independent Project Qualification (IPQ) is the leading A-level standard extended project qualification designed specifically for the international market. It is based on AQA’s Extended Project Qualification, which is chosen by the majority of schools in the UK, and has become increasingly popular with schools around the globe in recent years.

Our GCSE Plus endorsement takes the same skills and applies them at GCSE level. Students draft a question that relates to one of their OxfordAQA GCSE subjects, research that topic in depth, and then write a 2,500-word report on their findings. They are then awarded a Pass, Merit or Distinction endorsement alongside their GCSE grade for that subject.

Schools are telling us that they noticed a profound difference in how students taking IPQ and GCSE Plus fared during lockdown. Their experience has been that these students were more adaptable, more independent, more able to cope with the challenges remote teaching threw at them.

With this in mind, many schools are bringing IPQ and GCSE Plus into their contingency planning around Covid-19. Recognising that the pandemic might still affect students’ education, they are looking for qualifications that are flexible to deliver, foster independence, empower students – and potentially improve outcomes across the curriculum. They are finding that IPQ and GCSE Plus fit the bill on all counts.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of OxfordAQA International IPQ and GCSE Plus, visit the student-led projects section of our website.

If you are interested in how GCSE Plus can help your students transition from GCSE to A-level, you can watch a recording of the webinar we ran in October 2020: Go Further with your teaching: how GCSE Plus can help the transition from GCSE to A-level.