The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is a voluntary, non-competitive scheme designed to support the personal and social development of young people aged 14-25, regardless of gender, background or ability. It offers an individual challenge and encourages young people to undertake exciting, constructive, challenging and enjoyable activities in their free time. DofE offers a unique opportunity to develop leadership and team-working skills and across the country over 130,000 young people enrol each year.
At St Swithun’s, girls are encouraged to participate in the scheme, which seeks to develop self-confidence, independence, commitment and social conscience through a programme of volunteering, skill, physical activity and expeditions. Participants can start at any level but usually around 90% of the girls in M5 start at bronze level aged fourteen or fifteen and many continue to complete their silver and gold levels at the school. Expeditions take place in areas as far afield as Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons and the Forest of Dean as well as nearer home in the Purbecks and The New Forest. Parents often help with the expedition section of the scheme and have found, like the girls and staff, that involvement can prove very enjoyable.
At the school, the scheme is run by a dedicated DofE centre coordinator who is able to offer the necessary advice and support; pupils manage their own award and, through the scheme, develop their initiative, organisational skills and sense of responsibility.
At each level (bronze, silver and gold) participants must engage in four activities:
An overnight self-sufficient camping expedition ranging from two days and one night (bronze level) to four days and three nights (gold level). The expedition section includes training for, planning and completing a journey on foot or horseback, or by boat or cycle or wheelchair.
Volunteering encourages participants to help individuals and the community (working in charity shops, drop-in centres for the mentally handicapped, helping with environmental projects).
Skills can cover almost any hobby, skill or interest of the participant, such as riding, photography, or playing a musical instrument and physical recreation focuses on sport, dance and fitness.
In addition, those taking their gold award must undertake a residential project that requires them to spend four nights away from home or school in the company of people previously unknown to them and in an unfamiliar environment, typically a youth hostel, camp or sailing ship. This might involve learning a skill such as sailing instruction or photography, or working with the handicapped, or with young people with special needs.
Those who complete their bronze or silver levels are invited to an awards ceremony to receive their certificates from a local dignitary or celebrity, whilst those who complete their gold DofE are invited to St James’ Palace in London to receive their certificate from HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. DofE is well regarded by universities and employers who recognise how it can benefit an individual.