Following the sad passing of HRH Prince Philip, we have been reminded of his incredible life of service and his support of so many good causes. From a school perspective, there is no doubt that the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme will be his most important legacy.
The award has its roots at Gordonstoun School, where the Duke was a pupil, and was developed originally from the Moray Badge, introduced in the 1930s by the then headmaster Kurt Hahn. The award has become part of the national consciousness and rightly so. To date 6.7 million young people have taken part in “DofE” and its appeal continues to grow, not just in the independent sector, but with many state schools also seeing its benefits.
In recent years many senior schools, like Godolphin, have seen the merit of broadening the curriculum through programmes that develop those transferable skills so much in demand in the workplace. Prince Philip’s vision over 60 years ago was aimed very much at developing these same life-changing credentials.
Long before schools developed their own initiatives, “DofE” (interestingly only with boys to start with) was helping to develop that same “character” education that is very much today’s buzz word. The opportunity to challenge oneself, learn new skills and make a difference to one’s community is as important now as it ever was for young people.
“The expedition section does stretch our students and they have to find a bit of inner steel to get through to the end.”
At Godolphin it is extremely popular at all three levels and works extremely well alongside the Combined Cadet Force. As a reminder, there are four sections at Bronze and Silver – Volunteering, Physical, Skill and Expedition with an additional section at Gold – Residential.
There is always huge emphasis placed on the expedition section as it is deemed the most demanding element of the award. It is here that participants are physically challenged carrying their big rucksacks out on an expedition. They often have great adventures (more commonly known as getting lost!), have experiences in the countryside that most wouldn’t normally get, plan their routes, food, camping sites and generally look after themselves with minimal adult supervision – a big step away from the classroom/school environment.
Of course, some do find the expedition easy but on the whole the expedition section does stretch our students and they have to find a bit of inner steel to get through to the end. One of our students, recently completing her Gold Award, told me how she had been pushed outside her comfort zone and it had taught her “to persevere, to keep going and all with a positive attitude.”
“This year has been a bit more challenging, but girls have still been working in food shelters, rubbish collecting and baking cakes for an old people’s home.”
The Volunteering section is incredibly worthwhile and our students gain a great deal from giving up their time to help others, be that at home in their local community, at school or in an unfamiliar environment. In the past, sixth form girls volunteered at the town’s Oxfam bookshop creating long standing friendships and meaningful relationships with customers.
One elderly lady who was lonely and isolated was visited by one girl who shopped for her and helped with odd jobs. When she finished DofE, her younger sister took on the same responsibility and the family “adopted” the lady, who was subsequently invited to spend Christmas with them.
Unsurprisingly, this year has been a bit more challenging, but we have still had girls working in food shelters in Winchester, rubbish collecting in their own villages, baking cakes for an old people’s home, assisting with the Trussell Trust food parcel distribution and walking dogs for NHS personnel during the first lockdown.
Some of our older girls (school leavers) have gone on to complete their volunteering sections abroad in Africa and the Far East on project work with NGO-type organisations.
“DofE has fond memories also for many of our staff who themselves took part in the scheme when they were at school.”
At Godolphin, we’ve had the benefit of some extremely dedicated staff supporting the scheme and their enthusiasm has certainly encouraged strong participation. Among the highlights have been numerous invitations to St James’ Palace to receive their awards. On one occasion, 13 girls in one year received their Gold – the most from one centre on that occasion – and our teacher read out the girls’ names. Prince Philip was introduced personally and the group was given a tour of St James’.
DoE has fond memories not only for our students but also for many of our staff who themselves took part in the scheme when they were at school. I have been inundated with anecdotes including stomping through bog in borrowed boots, learning morse code, gate crashing a party on an adjacent campsite but also helping to develop a real passion for the outdoors and a sense of adventure.
“Students have more to talk about in general conversation as well as at interview for university and beyond.”
Overall, as well as gaining an internationally recognised award to add to their CV, students gain great additional life experiences that they would not usually have. As a result, they have more to talk about in general conversation as well as at interview for university and beyond. “I see that you have completed your DofE Gold award. Tell me what you did for your Volunteering section” or “What were the best and worst elements of your DofE expedition” might well prompt discussion and further conversation regarding selfless commitment or personal resilience in adversity.
Thank you, Prince Philip, for creating such an extraordinary award that has kept pace with changing times. Long may it continue.