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Houdini's bones

Deconstructed: A visceral example of an EPQ

We’ve talked here at UniBox about the benefits of the Extended Project Qualification. But what does one actually look like? What goes into putting one together?

Here, Peterborough School EPQ Coordinator Lynette Grinyer talks about the school’s approach to the EPQ, and introduces one of her students’ projects by way of an example. Laurie Fisher is off to study Zoology at Lincoln this autumn, having been able to talk about her multi-faceted extended project in her interview.

This EPQ example demonstrates the almost limitless scope and multi-disciplinary nature of the qualification, and how it rewards and fosters curiosity and inquiry.

But beware: this example is not for the faint-hearted, and the account below contains some grisly detail!

By Mrs Lynette Grinyer, EPQ Coordinator, The Peterborough School

The Extended Project Qualification is a valuable addition to A level study which is highly esteemed by universities. Many schools plan to introduce EPQ as a new qualification in the coming year as the country moves to linear A Levels. Here at The Peterborough School, we have been running the EPQ course since 2009 and our students have benefited from the opportunity to work creatively and independently while achieving some outstanding results. Last year, all of our EPQ candidates achieved A* to B grades and 50% of students achieved A* grades. It is worth noting that an A* grade in an EPQ is worth 28 points on the new UCAS tariff – more than a top grade at AS level.

When students take an EPQ, they work independently with the guidance and support of a supervisor. The topic they select may be drawn from personal interest, an existing area of study, a leisure interest, voluntary work or future career aspirations.

Students can choose the outcome of their project which might be a dissertation or an artefact.

Year after year, our experience has shown that students with an EPQ have an important edge when applying for university places. This year several of our students have been made reduced or even unconditional offers thanks, at least in part, to their EPQ studies.

Laurie Fisher plans to study Zoology at Lincoln, where her place on a most competitive course is guaranteed. As Laurie explained: “When I visited Lincoln I met lecturers who were interested in osteology and entomology and they loved my EPQ! Lincoln was my first choice university and I was so excited when they made me an unconditional offer.”

Laurie’s account of her memorable achievements and EPQ process follows.

My EPQ Project, by Laurie Fisher, 13H

“A study into the processes of decomposition and skeletal re-articulation of a typical mammal”
Animals, bugs and bones have fascinated me from a young age. I’ve always been drawn to things that would make some people squirm!

Last year I was offered the opportunity to complete an Extended Project Qualification on a topic of my choice, so I thought I’d complete a project in something I’ve always wanted to do: skeletal re-articulation. Of course I couldn’t complete this on my own, so I had to recruit a body in the form of a rabbit called Houdini!


[Editor’s note: Houdini was bought, already dead, from a butcher for Laurie’s project – no animals were harmed in the production of this EPQ!]

This project involved a full decomposition, maceration (making bone soup with water, washing up liquid and rabbit juices), cleaning and articulation as well as a huge amount of patience. Even with prior research and experimentation, I still faced more than my fair share of challenges. These included drowning maggots, fractured toe bones and ears that refused to decompose. Imagine a 3D jigsaw puzzle with a few missing pieces, rogue clumps of hair, stringy cartilage and the overwhelming smell of hydrogen peroxide!

I thought the festering stage was unpleasant enough, but the articulation proved to be far worse. Many face masks and pairs of rubber gloves had to be sacrificed along the way. Eventually, after weeks of gluing ribs on backwards, parents complaining about swarms of flies preventing barbeques and attaching vertebrae in variously incorrect orders, Houdini began to take shape. I was forced to continue with the cleaning process even during articulation because time was against me and Houdini wasn’t succumbing to any of the whitening methods I tried. Only when the final dowling rod was fixed into place and Houdini held her head high did I think about what I had accomplished over the year.


I submitted a Conclusion and Evaluation in one document, and a Final Report in another. I basically had to outline the problems I faced and what could have been changed if I repeated the project. For the final project I submitted the skeleton, a photo timeline of the decomposition as well as the written reports. I also had to complete a presentation in front of teachers, students and a subject expert (a police officer who worked with a forensics team). I had a supervisor to guide me along the way but I mainly used social media to connect with taxidermists and professional articulators. I also had email conversions with artist Katrina van Grouw and several Natural History Museums in America and England.

I’ve met some incredible, like-minded people during my EPQ journey. I have also learnt valuable skills through creating my own experiments, generating ideas and adapting new techniques. The EPQ is a fantastic challenge to undertake if you are prepared to step outside your comfort zone and want to complete a project on a topic that inspires you. For me, it’s been incredible. The satisfaction of holding my own articulated skeleton was worth all the odd looks I received because I did this on my own. I think that’s something to be truly proud of.

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Tue, 14 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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