How often do teachers lament apparently basic failings in the independent learning work of students that seem to recur year after year, irrespective of the topic? Still, when taking a long-term perspective, unless a conscious attempt is made to probe the problems in some detail, the danger emerges that teachers rely too much simply on impressions they have gained over time, rather than on systematically gathered data. In 2016, keen to adopt a more rigorous approach to the exploration of student shortcomings, I set about analysing the work of Sixth Form candidates pursuing the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). The inquiry led me to collect evidence over three years so, in total, I scrutinised the efforts of candidates from 2016, 2017 and 2018. I had worked closely with all these students as their EPQ teacher, supervisor and co-assessor.
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