Wet sleeping bags, blisters and being freezing cold – just three of the things some might associate with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. But whilst the expeditions might sometimes be beset by mishaps, map reading errors and bad weather of biblical proportions, they teach pupils a range of skills which cannot be found in the classroom.
"Although it can be uncomfortable – and they can get soaking wet etc – I actually think they really enjoy that part of it!", reflects Emma McKendrick, Headmistress of Downe House.
"It's the expeditions where things go wrong, they will talk about for years afterwards. Partly because you develop friendships, you have to work out things collaboratively and you also learn you can do it – you can get lost on the moors and find a way out collaboratively. And actually, that's a really important part of building up their resilience."
Thomas Garnier, Headmaster of Pangbourne College agrees: "I do think the discomfort is actually quite an important rite of passage on the journey towards developing resilience – and teamwork and confidence."
The Award was started by The Duke of Edinburgh, initially as a pilot scheme in 1956, with four sections – Rescue and Public Service, Expeditions, Pursuits and Projects, and fitness. It proved popular, with 7,000 boys getting involved in the first year and 1,000 Awards achieved.
It was expanded to girls the following year and has grown in popularity since these early beginnings. In 2019/20, just under 300,000 people took part and a record 159,051 Awards were achieved.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on young people, especially in terms of socialisation and being unable to do many of the collaborative things normally available. As society begins to emerge from the restrictions, DofE could help young people to reconnect and rediscover valuable skills.
"What the DofE does is bring people together," says Emma McKendrick. "The community service allows them to give things back and actually that's good for all of us – that sense of wellbeing that you get, when you are making a contribution and doing something valuable."
"So in terms of lifting the spirits – bringing people together – for a really good and worthwhile common purpose – I think all of that will help our young people as they come out of the pandemic."
Thomas Garnier agrees: "One of the most significant things that young people have lost during the last year is not so much the impact on their learning, but it's the impact on their social skills and their sense of being able to make a contribution to other people."
"So I think the DofE is a brilliant scheme to help them get back on track again."
Emma McKendrick of Downe House and Thomas Garnier of Pangbourne College were talking to Attain's Editor, Matthew Smith.