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Duke of Edinburgh scheme proves more popular than ever during pandemic

Duke of Edinburgh scheme proves more popular than ever during pandemic

Despite the recent challenges faced in completing the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (DofE), St Mary’s School has seen a significant uplift in participation this year. Miss Dutton, International Coordinator & Duke of Edinburgh Award Leader at St Mary’s, believes there’s never been a better time for secondary school pupils to take on the challenge.

“The DofE awards are undeniably one of the most prominent legacies to have been left behind by his Royal Highness, the late Prince Philip. It is an award scheme that many of us look back on with fond memories as adults – recalling challenging expeditions, which are sometimes plagued by mishaps, mainly due to the unpredictable British weather!

The regular tests faced by teenagers undertaking the DofE awards can be tough enough. Failing tents, soggy socks and dubious map reading skills all spring to mind. However, this year’s cohort of DofE participants have also had the global pandemic, lockdown restrictions and social distancing to contend with. Yet, despite this, St Mary’s School has seen an increase in participation this year, with more of our girls successfully taking on the challenge in the great outdoors than ever before. During the 2020/21 academic year, with 91 students in Year 9 working towards their Bronze Award.

On our expedition weekend in May we had 20 teams of Year 9 and 10 girls out and about - completing the outward bounds part of their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award. The girls walked a remarkable 30 km over the two days and, although they were unable to camp due to covid restrictions, they experienced many typical DofE challenges with a full range of weather conditions thrown at them.

The DofE Award is, of course, so much more than just the expeditions. For the Skill, Volunteering and Physical aspects of the award, students acquired a range of new skills spanning jewellery making, art, music, cooking and drama. They kept physically fit with activities such as running, rowing, playing tennis, hockey and netball.  They undertook charitable work. They also learnt practical skills ahead of their expedition – including first aid, how to read a map and route planning.

The pandemic has obviously had a huge impact on the lives of young people, particularly when it comes to socialising with their peers. Locked down with their parents, and away from face-to-face teaching for months at a time, many students have been unable to do many of the collaborative things they would normally partake in, including team sports. I believe this is why we have seen an increase in DofE participation this year. It’s been a way for teenagers to get back outside again, join forces together to achieve something great and importantly, experience some independence. Though our expeditions were not normal this year, with no camping, mask wearing and social distancing still in place, the students relished being outside and learning new skills.

As our journey through the pandemic continues, the unique and valuable skills that the DofE awards teach participants have never been more important. Taking part in this long-running programme gives youngsters true time for reflection. They have the chance to escape the classroom walls and learn a range of new skills that will stay with them forever and help them to reconnect with the great outdoors. Immersing themselves in everything the countryside has to offer is also great for their physical and mental wellbeing. It also makes a strong addition to university and job applications. We hope to see even more of our girls signing up next year!”

Find out more about the Duke of Edinburgh's Award at St Mary's.