Much of the subject content taught in schools, especially in the GCSE and A Level years, is inevitably prescribed by the demands of the various public examination specifications and syllabuses. As a counter-balance to this, providing opportunities for our pupils to explore and learn more about the things they are genuinely passionate about (ideally for the simple joy of discovery, not for an assessed result) is a really important aspect of their education.
Joining a club or society is one way to do this: many, such as the Minerva Society and our thriving Politics, STEM and Zoology Clubs are open to all year groups. There are also lots of opportunities to do projects on a subject of your choice: in Year 7 it’s the Personal Endeavour Project, examples of which have included models of the solar system and a sustainable house, cookbooks, a scientific investigation (involving a hamster and helium balloons!) and a 60s style dress.
The most able pupils in Years 8-10 can then continue to pursue their interests under the auspices of the ‘Horizon Group’: over the years they have made films, written poetry, created artwork in the style of the Impressionists, investigated taste and colour, designed computer games and learnt more about their own family history.
In Year 12, all our students are given a comprehensive training in research and project planning skills so that they can complete a short University Preparation Project. They can then incorporate this research into a formal Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) which is highly respected by universities, worth half an A Level and requires them to write a 5,000 word essay or create an artefact such as a film, play or piece of artwork.
This year, nearly a third of Year 13 completed an EPQ, the largest number to date. They gave their required presentations, including responding to questions from the audience, at a formal event recently and as ever, there was a really wide range of topics, reflecting the interests and passions of the individuals.
Some of the girls chose to investigate questions related to their choice of degree subject:
- Isabella (geography): Is colonialism really to blame for the widening of the African development gap?
- Sarah (engineering): Do the benefits of Artificial Intelligence outweigh the future dangers?
- Dina (dentistry): Is cosmetic dentistry a desire or a need?
- Clemence (biology): Can Scientific Denialism be justified?
Others pursued topics more closely related to their personal interests:
- Celeste: Why aren't certain dog breeds used for therapeutic purposes for children?
- Loveday: Has Drill music influenced violent crime in London?
- Isis: Should the healthcare system adapt to become more accessible to transgender individuals?
Without exception, the girls had a most impressive knowledge of their material and spoke with confidence and maturity: an added bonus for the audience was that their own knowledge of these subjects was enhanced (the Evening Standard article a few days later on Drill music made much more sense to me as a result of Loveday’s presentation!). As Cicero said: Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.