Extracurricular benefits are beyond measure

Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending my first Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award ceremony. As a German who fulfils the national stereotype of being a fan of the royals, watching the Duke of Edinburgh at work was a treat in itself.

But what was truly memorable about the event was how obvious it was that, even at more than 90 years of age, he continues to throw his weight behind the programme he founded in 1956. And it was equally clear why so many others, from all walks of life, choose to support the scheme.

More than 400 young people gathered in the garden of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh and their stories were truly inspirational. The previously disengaged young man who is now a university student, for example, and is shortly due to sail from Norway to Inverness, having discovered the sport during his time with the DofE programme. Or the young people living with disabilities who used canoes and special wheelchairs to complete their four-day expeditions.

All of them have spent a year volunteering through the scheme, but they have also worked for months and months on the skills and physical training required for the award.

They deserve to be rewarded for what they have achieved. It is only right that they get not only a badge and a certificate but also a few minutes of royal company and the applause of their families and friends, as well as the celebrity presenters.

But should their achievement not also be acknowledged by the education sector? This goes right to the heart of what Curriculum for Excellence was meant to be about - not just lessons, exams and academic results but "a totality of experiences" that would help each and every young person to become a "successful learner, a confident individual, a responsible citizen and an effective contributor".

But, as Audit Scotland found in its report on school education published last month, and as experts agree in this week's news focus, our tracking of wider achievement continues to be patchy and inconsistent. It remains to be seen whether the "Insight" tool, set to be launched by the government next month, will be able to fix that problem.

In many ways, what young people gain from taking part in something like the Duke of Edinburgh's Award - or an enterprise project, or any of the other highly rated wider-achievement programmes - will always go beyond what can be measured.

How their personalities and characters are shaped by the feeling of having completed an expedition, or having made a profit with a project of their own, will never be captured on any credit framework. But that does not mean it could not benefit them and their future employers and lecturers as much, if not more, than anything that comes with a credit rating attached.


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