Extended Project Qualifications: What do the statistics say about student growth?

As part of the Association of Colleges 2023 annual conference, the winner of the inaugural AQA Project Excellence Award was announced. This prize is given to the student whose Extended Project Qualification has most impressed the judging panel for its originality, innovation, research and potential for wider social benefit.

Jessica Burton picked up the top prize for her EPQ exploring the themes of Queerness and Vampirism through history.
Jessica used the EPQ to help earn herself a place on Cambridge University’s Foundation Year in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

What skills do Extended Project Qualifications help students develop?

In a video the teenager recorded, she spoke enthusiastically about how completing the qualification during Year 12 improved her personal organisation, confidence, research and presentation skills, motivation and resilience.

Other skills young people will often mention in relation to EPQ are better decision-making and problem-solving skills, as well as an ability to evaluate outcomes against set objectives.

All of these are the essential life skills that are vital for improved academic outcomes and work prospects – and tackling these can also support improved social mobility if targeted at the right groups.

Do Extended Project Qualifications help students’ wider academic success?

AQi has already cited research showing links between completing an EPQ and higher than expected grades in students’ other A levels.

But do EPQs have any influence on students’ progression in Higher Education?

The idea that they do appears to be backed up by work done by Professor Abigail Harrison Moore of the University of Leeds and Dr Emma Thompson from the University of Southampton.

What university statistics tell us about Extended Project Qualifications

The pair have done much work analysing progression and outcome statistics for sixth form students.

When they looked at the non-continuation data for first year university students between 2015 and 2020, they found that those without EPQs discontinued their courses at a higher rate than those who had completed an EPQ.

Indeed, for all but one of the five years, the non-EPQ cohort left at more than twice the rate as EPQ students.

Source: University of Leeds and University of Southampton

When it came to final outcomes, the EPQ cohort obtaining 2:1 or a First Class degree was also consistently higher.

In the five graduation years between 2017 and 2021, the proportion of students with EPQs getting a high grade degree was always over 90%, while those without did not once break that barrier.

Source: University of Leeds and University of Southampton

Can Extended Project Qualifications increase social mobility?

Drilling down into those outcome statistics highlights the transformative potential of the EPQ when it comes to social mobility.

Using the English Index of Multiple Deprivation, we see that at every level of deprivation, those with EPQs outperformed the equivalent non-EPQ cohort.

The EPQ cohort did so well that even its lowest performing quintile – ‘most deprived’ – outperformed every quintile in the non-EPQ column other than the ‘least deprived.’

Source: University of Leeds and University of Southampton

Breaking the figures down by ethnicity, each ethnic group had better outcomes with an EPQ than without – some by quite a margin.

Notably, in the black category, there was a 16.4 percentage point difference.

Source: University of Leeds and University of Southampton


We see a similar pattern when looking at students with disabilities. All groups performed better with EPQs.

Interestingly, the greatest gap between the two groups was in the social or communication impairment which showed a 14.6 percentage point gap.

This appears to tie in with the EPQ’s boost to confidence and presentation skills to which students like Jessica Burton point.

Source: University of Leeds and University of Southampton

Extended Project Qualifications are linked to higher university results

Looking at these statistics we can identify a link between taking an EPQ and greater success in Higher Education, even after accounting for other factors, such as economic, ethnic and medical backgrounds.

Of course, we need to exercise a modicum of caution. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, and students who choose to take an EPQ are likely to be more motivated than those that don’t, which will affect their performances.

Despite that, AQA’s study on A level outcomes and this study on HE outcomes do begin to suggest a link between completing an EPQ and better preparation for future education and life in the workplace.

Anecdotally, we know many teachers and students agree that EPQ helps students embed the skill of ‘learning how they best learn’, as well supporting them to find personalised strategies for reaching an end goal, adapting where necessary.

Do Extended Project Qualifications’ benefits extend outside education?

It is clear that the EPQ carries a value to the student beyond the grades they achieve.

EPQs can support students’ growth no matter what their background.
Giving young people the chance to develop essential life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication, will help them flourish in education and beyond.

In this light, EPQs could be seen as a driver of opportunity and social mobility.

This blog was originally published by AQi Extended Project Qualifications: What do the statistics say about student growth? | AQi powered by AQA

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