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Loch, listen and learn

A new adventure award and a refurbished activity centre have got the royal seal of approval, says Jackie Cosh

A new adventure award and a refurbished activity centre have got the royal seal of approval, says Jackie Cosh

A place where the under-privileged work with the over-privileged and both benefit - that is how HRH the Duke of York described the Outward Bound centre at Loch Eil, but the sentiment is part of its whole ethos.

The Duke attended Loch Eil last month for the official opening of its refurbished Watson Centre, which has been renovated, re-roofed, and made more user-friendly for the young people.

As chairman of the trustees, he takes a keen interest in the work of the centre near Fort William. As part of the day's celebrations, trustees and potential trustees were being given a tour, followed by a presentation from two of the young people who had taken part in the Classic course.

The Classic course is a 22-day programme for young people aged 13-24 and meets the requirements of The Duke of Edinburgh residential course - from camping in the mountains to paddling across water, to climbing and abseiling, it teaches problem-solving and leadership skills.

Callum Mackay, 16, from Coatbridge felt he learned a lot about working in a team. "In the canoe I soon realised that if I didn't pull my weight I would be letting the other person in the team down."

Callum has, he admits, become a different person since the course. "I am more confident in social situations now and when meeting new people. My time keeping has improved, as I know being late means letting other people down. At school I now do my homework instead of putting it off and not getting round to it."

Everyone in the room listens as Ryan Wilson, 16, from Glasgow, tells the tale of being airlifted off a mountainside after a four-hour wait. He recalls how calm and supportive the group was when he was injured and how one boy scaled half the mountain with his mobile phone in order to get a signal. He says: "I feel I can take the benefits of the support and teamwork to my everyday life."

Freda Fallon is education account executive at Loch Eil and supports schools, designing programmes with them over a period of 18 months prior to their arrival. Her work with North Lanarkshire young people has included running the council's Aiming Higher programme for over 800 students each year. Keen for the outdoor aspect to be recognised in its own right, they worked with the Outward Bound Trust to develop a qualification which would recognise this.

"We had been running the Working with Others SQA award," says Ms Fallon, "and wanted to move towards something which recognised the whole experience. What we do is at a much higher level.

"In November last year we received a grant to go through the process of placing the award on the framework. It is now a Level 5 award with five credits and it gives wider acknowledgment of their achievement," she explains.

"The course had always been running; this was about accrediting it and it is now an option for all schools in Scotland."

Martin Davidson, Scottish director of the Outward Bound Trust, says: "The placing of one of our courses on the Scottish qualifications framework (SCQF) does two things. It demonstrates the learning value of outdoor experience, but most importantly it helps young people put into context what they have done here with elsewhere - school etc. By sitting on the framework they can see that it sits alongside this. It allows them to understand and value what they are doing here."

The benefits of such courses were acknowledged in the Social Impact Report 2011, produced by NPC (New Philanthropy Capital): 93 per cent of teachers reported that their pupils had increased in confidence, improved social well-being, and were more resilient and optimistic following the Outward Bound programme.

"There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that kids become motivated and energised. What we have tried to do is become sophisticated, analysing the effect of the course," says Tony Shepherd, head of the Loch Eil Centre.

"We worked with the NPC to measure self-esteem. The evidence says that the courses have a positive impact and this carries on after their time at the centre. We consider what we do here to be the start of developing central needs which will be relevant in their school, home and social lives."

The trust is committed to developing and continuing the process and to becoming more adept at finding ways to measure what it does, and to become externally measurable. Having vigorous external evaluation is, they say, a challenge of their work.

Bound to work

The Outward Bound course can incorporate:

John Muir Award

ASDAN accreditation

Adventure and Challenge award (Level 5 SCQF)

The Duke of Edinburgh (expedition residential)

More Choices, More Chances programme

Classic Badge (part of the 22 days Classic programme)


Stats and findings from the 2011 Social Impact Report

Three-quarters of teachers said they were able to support their pupils in a more targeted way.

87 per cent of students said that the Outward Bound course had taught them to keep trying when things don't work out.

71 per cent of teachers reported that the course had broadened their pupils' horizons.

83 per cent reported an improved attitude towards learning in their pupils.

Some courses seemed to have much more impact on young people than other courses.

The results suggested a need to invest more in training instructors, so that they can guide young people more clearly in understanding how their mindset affects their attitude towards learning and achievement.

For some young people, the change in them was not immediately apparent and showed itself months, or even years, later.

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