How the Higher Project Qualification can help students explore their post-16 options – and make more informed choices

The HPQ provides students with skills, knowledge, and the opportunity for self- discovery, all of which are needed to make good, informed decisions about post-16 options and career goals beyond that.

In the English education system, students often choose their options for post-16 study before even completing their Key Stage 4(KS4) qualifications. (And these subjects are chosen at age 13 or 14.)

Most secondary schools are limited in what subjects they can offer in KS4, and this means that students are sometimes choosing post-16 courses of study without truly understanding the subject, the course requirements, or the career paths their course of study can open for them.

With limited resources, subject specialists, and hours in the timetable, how can schools help ensure their KS4 students are making informed decisions for their next phase of education? This is where the Higher Project Qualification (HPQ) can help.

As a self-directed project qualification for KS4, the HPQ allows students to explore any area of interest, regardless of its relevance to their current courses of study. If a student is considering A-Level Psychology, they may want to embark on a project that explores the role of psychology in modern advertising, or even conduct or recreate a psychological study with their peers. This would allow them to undertake research in the area, gain a greater understanding of the basics of psychology, and find out what it’s like to work as a psychologist.

With support from their supervisor, students can also find experts in the field to support their project, gaining further insight into career paths, and developing networking and communication skills. An HPQ in an academic subject of interest has the potential to support students to get a head start on their next phase of study, and more importantly, find out if the subjects they’ve yet to study in school are a good fit for them post-16 and beyond.

The HPQ, however, is not built to be a fundamentally academic qualification, and can also be extremely beneficial to students who have a more vocational path in mind.

Post-16 providers access to secondary schools can be piecemeal and difficult to coordinate, meaning that similarly for academic routes, students may end up on a technical course that they have little or no first-hand experience of. The HPQ provides the opportunity for students to create an artefact rather than a report or extended essay, which allows them to explore a more practical set of skills, and hopefully engage with professionals in a relevant area.

Currently, Education and Childcare is the most subscribed T-Level course, but what KS4 subjects expose students to this line of work in meaningful ways? Students who are interested in taking on this T-Level might choose to do an HPQ project where they collaborate with a local primary school, and create a scheme of work and series of lesson plans. They could learn about special educational needs and design or build a functioning sensory room.

The opportunity to explore the area of Education and Childcare is vast, and students can gain a great understanding of that industry, and if they want to pursue it post-16. This is even more important for students interested in a T-Level like Surveying and Planning for Construction, where they are even less likely to have been exposed to the content or skill sets required before enrolling.

Project qualifications like the HPQ force educators to ask students, ‘What is it that you want to make, learn, or do?’.

This question alone forces students to think about who they are, what they enjoy and what they are good at. Unfortunately, in the current system, students are rarely asked these things until it is time to make potentially career defining decisions.

The HPQ, while providing the means for students to build essential skills, also allows them to explore subjects of interest in a relatively low stakes and high support environment. Exposing a student to their next passion, and maybe more importantly, inform them of the realities of a pathway that they are considering.

As educators, we have a responsibility for equipping our students for their next steps, and what could be better than giving them a chance to try before they buy? The HPQ, when delivered well, provides students with skills, knowledge, and the opportunity for self- discovery, all of which are needed to make good, informed decisions about post-16 options and career goals beyond that.

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