On Tuesday 6th March, seven outstanding EPQ students took centre stage to present their projects. The level of engagement with philosophical questions was exceptional; one parent stated: “Wow – what amazing projects and presentations! A credit to Emanuel.”

Jacob’s analysis of whether the IRA should have been given amnesty as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was rigorous. His exploration of how Britain and Ireland can reconcile its troubled past was insightful, and his handling of sources was methodical. His mature consideration of such sensitive topic was evident, and he fielded some tough questions from the audience regarding current charges against former British soldiers relating to Bloody Sunday.

Bessie tackled the issue of measuring the benefits of introducing a sugar tax in the UK, versus the liberal rights we cherish as our society: John Locke’s harm principal offered an ethical framework for the question. The audience flinched when we were presented with scans revealing the impact on sugar on the brain and she explained the misleading packaging allowed to exist in the UK’s food industry. Whilst Bessie acknowledged the detrimental effects of sugar, the freedom of the individual triumphed in her argument.

Lucy had tackled the controversial issue of prostitution: she persuasively argued that prostitution should be decriminalised in the UK. She held a mirror up to our British sensibilities: in comparison to our continental neighbours, we shied away from tackling the issue due to societal judgements of morality and generally our prudishness! Her research on German legislation was forensic, and allowed her to make some very specific comparisons, and she also drew on the recent failed attempt social experiment decriminalise Street prostitution in Leeds.

The focus seismically shifted to happiness with Freya’s assessment on how the built environment affects our happiness relative to other factors. Her analysis of earnings dispelled any beliefs that money is a direct indicator of happiness and she emphasised to the audience that social factors appear to be important, particularly friendship – not something Emanuel pupils need to worry about.

Sasha then took us on a whistle-stop tour of the American political system. His research on voter suppression and how racial and socio-economic factors can affect your power as a voter was alarming. The thoroughness to which he had considered the democratic nature of representative government was demonstrated as he calmly responded to the question from the audience was Britain any more politically corrupt than American. His answer, in short, was that much needs to be done to improve both the democratic processes and electoral systems.

Ima followed with an analysis of the current treatments of dementia. The range of research that she had drawn on was impressive: from qualitative research, such as interviews with members of the medical community, to quotative clinical test trials. She had also assessed less orthodox treatments such as meditation. As an aspiring doctor, it was clear that she will be an asset to the medical community.

Finally, Jeremy took to the stage and the audience could be in absolutely no doubt about his enthusiasm for ecology. He had considered how we maintain food security while reducing the negative ecological impacts of agriculture from every conceivable angle, and his suggestions for further research shows that it is not inconceivable for him to undertake a PhD in the future.

“The standard of the presentations was very high and it was a real delight to see the young people so inspired by their chosen topics. The research skills they have acquired will undoubtedly help them considerably in the future, whether in the workplace or at university, where so many students struggle with individual reading and deadlines.”

– OE in attendance

In an environment where the media often uses the term “the snowflake generation” to refer to young people’s lack of ‘grit’, I thought that this praise directly challenged the misplaced sentiment. These students represented an entire cohort of upper sixth students, all of whom had pursued an area of interest and had been incredibly resilient.

The founder of the EPQ, John Taylor, notes in his book Think again: a philosophical guide to teaching the EPQ (2012) that teachers should pursue a Socratic approach as a regular part of their teaching: we should motivate students to think for themselves, to probe and challenge difficult questions and to make lines of enquiry into the unknown. As each explained the challenges they faced, it was clear that they had encountered several dead ends in their research and all had had to adapt their question. The tenacity to keep going on this self-directed journey was as, if not more, remarkable than their mastery of their chosen topic.

Miss Moore (Head of EPQ)