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The New Project Qualification from ISEB
By Kate Allen
17 Mar

The Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) is well known for Common Entrance, which acknowledges and rewards achievement in Years 7 and 8, and equips learners with the knowledge, skills and understanding which they will need as they make the important move to their senior schools.

During the past year ISEB has consulted with prep and senior schools, looking closely at how new subject specifications can ensure that the learning process is a developmental one. This means that our new specifications will emphasise less the acquisition of knowledge and focus more on its application. They will provide a framework for teaching and learning, whilst allowing individual teachers to approach subjects in their own way and have time to explore wider aspects, such as current events or particular areas of interest. In order that new specifications are introduced with full consultation and with time for schools to adjust their teaching, the pace of updating is necessarily steady, which some may find frustrating.

In one area, however, we have been able to move much more rapidly. We are excited to be piloting, during this year, the ISEB Project Qualification with a view to introducing it more widely from September 2020. The ISEB Project Qualification takes its inspiration from the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) which is taken in many senior schools in Year 12. Those who have introduced the EPQ to their schools have been impressed by the way in which their pupils’ interest and enthusiasm is sparked, and the intellectual development and confidence that ensues.


The aim of the new ISEB Project Qualification is to give younger pupils, most likely those in Years 7 and 8, the opportunity to develop the same important skills of independent enquiry and research, within a framework which has been structured and tailored specifically for their age group. Initial reactions from prep schools have been very encouraging, showing that many are keen to adopt this approach in their own schools and that they value the skills their pupils will develop as a result.

The model of learning is based on research evidence that indicates that independent learning works most effectively through a process of guided discovery, in which pupils are taught the skills they need in order to engage in independent learning, provided with scaffolding to help structure their work and, during the process of the research project, are given guidance from a mentor whose questions and comments help to facilitate the process.

Indeed, it is important to understand that the greatest value of the ISEB Project Qualification lies not solely in the final presentation, but in the process which pupils undertake as they complete their research projects. They will ask and frame a question, review sources, reflect upon their findings and learn to draw and express balanced conclusions.

Projects may be subject related, focussed on the creative and performing arts or sport, or arise from PSHE topics or other interests: schools will be able to use the ISEB Project Qualification in lesson times, within or across subjects, as an enrichment activity or however else they see fit. We see this as part of the preparation for lifelong learning which is an important part of prep school provision and something which will give pupils valuable skills to support them in their future studies.

Pupils can carry out their research in a variety of contexts and at different scales. The ISEB Project Qualification syllabus will offer suggestions for incorporating project learning into existing schemes of work by means of small-scale (several lesson) projects as well as providing a structure for an extended 15-20-hour independent project. The ISEB Project Qualification can function as a stand-alone addition to an existing curriculum or be used to augment subjects within the curriculum with a project learning model. Schools will find that it can be flexible to suit their needs.

Research projects have been shown to encourage deeper thinking and greater enjoyment of the learning process by enabling pupils to connect their schoolwork to their personal interests. The ISEB Project Qualification model offers pupils the freedom to explore a wide variety of project forms, including written reports, presentations, podcasts, videos and creative sketchbook work. The final presentation of the research project might be written, an exhibition, an oral presentation, an interview or even a performance. In whatever form, it will also involve the opportunity for pupils to answer questions about their research and to show the depth of understanding that they have built.

ISEB has been very fortunate to have enlisted the support of Dr John Taylor of Cranleigh School, who has brought his expertise to the design of our initial specification. Our first ‘pilot’ schools have already received their training and we look forward to monitoring their progress during spring and summer 2020.

We are pleased to be introducing the ISEB Project Qualification to support schools as they seek to develop a wider set of skills that is complementary to those typically developed by means of courses that culminate in written examinations, and thus to help equip pupils for the transition to senior schools.

We look forward to reporting on progress of the pilots and the other developments described here at our Conference on the Importance of Years 7 and 8 to be held at Charterhouse on 28th April 2020.

Tags: 11+, 11 plus, 13+, 13+ Common Entrance, 13 plus, assessment, Common Entrance, Entrance exams, Independent School Examination Board, ISEB, school entrance exams, Studying

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