Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) mentoring

EPQ mentoring

This initiative was launched in year one to supplement our EPQ Library Visit days and took the format of a series of small meetings between researchers and EPQ students from a pilot school, St Mary Redcliffe & Temple (SMRT).

The evaluation of this intervention showed that it was successful in terms of giving the students a deeper understanding of the process and practice of research, whilst researchers reported “it’s beneficial for us… to maintain some consciousness of where our eventual first-year students are coming from, the kinds of things they’re studying” and “it’s important for connecting with all kinds of students, and in helping them see the possibilities of HE”.

However, there were many points for improvement, including the timing and the format. The scope for development was an opportunity to grow the model in order to deliver more impact.

We organised a mentoring fair at the University in November 2014, with 11 mentors across a range of subject areas, the majority of whom were early career researchers. The lead teacher from SMRT led a briefing session for the mentors prior to the event and designed a set of resources including information about the EPQ and a framework for conversation with the students.

A total of 40 students from two schools (SMRT and Backwell School) were matched to the mentors according to their expertise. At the fair, the mentors facilitated an hour’s conversation with their students in small groups.

Feedback from the teacher and the students suggested that help with honing the question and suggestions for resources were two of the most valuable aspects of the intervention. Students commented that the experience was “useful to get a reading list and it helped re-word and improve question” and ‘take home’ tips included “how to structure my EPQ” and “I learned not to assume outcomes which may distort my answer… I learned about presentation skills”. One student said it “helped me to widen my horizons in the way I’m conducting my research… and not limit my project to a literature review” whilst others reported learning techniques such as “how to evaluate resources in footnotes and find reliable criticisms”.

One of the major changes to the approach this year was the emphasis on building mentor-mentee relationships rather than a one-off meeting. We set up an email address to enable correspondence and we organised a follow-up visit to the school in January, which involved eight researchers and 20 students. In the interim between the two meetings, some of the students organised independent visits to the University libraries.

The lead teacher from the school said “there was a tremendously positive level of engagement by University staff, many of whom have showed an ongoing concern. The value to our students of interacting with university academics at first hand and accessing university facilities for academic purposes cannot be understated in terms of boosting their aspirations and confidence in making this transition themselves”.

In terms of improvements for next year, five researchers reported that they would have liked more time and two of these suggested individual 1:1 work with students could be beneficial. We may look at developing student resources in response to needs identified by the researchers: “students didn’t know what a research project ‘looked like’ – abstract, intro, lit, etc… conclusions. They also didn’t have researchable questions yet. As we all do, they started with big ideas but hadn’t seen to make them realistic”.

Looking to the future, we will be opening the event out to other schools. We have already established contact with the EPQ coordinators at schools in the North Somerset Teaching Alliance where the EPQ is offered. We are also in discussion with Backwell School about offering similar support to students taking the Higher Level Project Qualification (a Level 2 version of the EPQ).