What I would like to see though is more of them with a pile of books and articles on their desks as evidence that they are synthesising material from a variety of sources. The truth is that mostly they do not need to do this as part of their A Level studies. I don't think there's much change here since I was in their shoes just over 20 years ago. All I needed came from one core textbook and the teaching in the classroom. However, in the Upper Sixth I 'discovered' the theology section of the school library and with very little additional work I found that my essays improved dramatically.
Worcester College Library, Oxford
My angle is that students may not need to research independently for their A Levels but that they should do so. There are a number of clear benefits to this.
- It develops their love and understanding of the subject.
- It will improve their performance and strengthen their applications to universities.
- Synthesis, selection and deployment of information are skills most of use in our professional lives.
- It will better prepare them for the independent study expected at university.
- Increasingly post-graduate study is becoming more common which is where such skills are mandatory not optional.
So it seems to come down to an age-old debate in education, one set against the backdrop of the huge pressure to attain the best grades. Where is the line between ensuring the students are taught in a manner which will deliver the best chances of top grades and making them work more independently with the associated risk of lower performance?
For many years all of our students applying to Oxbridge have had to write an extended essay. From this September we will be running the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) for a group of Lower Sixth. Worth half an A Level, this is a 5-6,000 word essay in the style of a mini-thesis which universities love to see as it closely correlates to undergraduate work. We are running a pilot group which will be drawn from the top 20 performers at GCSE - and over 100 students have expressed interest. I suspect that we will be running it for pretty large numbers before too long. I'd like to think the interest shown is more than just seeking an edge in UCAS applications, but part of me isn't particularly fussed - the end may well justify the means. We are also giving all our Sixth Form students study skills sessions in how to research effectively.
- Departments planning opportunities for research essays.
Not exactly re-inventing the wheel but looking to make sure that we get the absolute best out of libraries for staff and students.
Berkhamsted School library