The Contextual Themes for the NEA are released on the 1st June in the year of assessment (Year 12 for most centres). There are three set themes every year and these change each year, never be repeated by OCR. The current and past Contextual Themes can be found through Assignments and Projects on Teach Cambridge. It is at a centre or teachers’ discretion as to whether a teaching group are offered all three of these set tasks, or only one. There can be a variety of reasons why a particular theme may not be deemed viable for some or all students within a centre. It is important to note however that the themes must not be altered under any circumstances. There will though be multiple ways for students to further contextualise and challenge the themes to respond to a user or stakeholder need/problem/opportunity that they can engage and relate to. As this is a product development, unlike the A Level qualification, there is not an expectation to start from scratch, but rather identify an existing product that requires improvement, or alternatively could be repurposed to resolve another identified problem.
It is also important to note, particularly when a centre is only offering one contextual challenge that although group discussions around a context are perfectly acceptable when initiating the NEA, the direction of travel should be that of the individual students. Teachers should become facilitators, enabling students’ to have an understanding of the contexts by challenging them to challenge themselves. This can be achieved by being a critical friend, ensuring they are opening up and thoroughly understand the language, meaning and alternative interpretations of the tasks to enable them to undertake their own feasibility study and write their own brief that ideally has involvement with users and/or other stakeholders from the start. Having duplicated briefs across a teaching group is not an appropriate approach either for assessment, or for the students’ individual engagement with their own project. All interactions with others, including their teacher (beyond generic delivery), should be recorded within students’ portfolios.