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Setting up a promising future

Dornoch Academy pupils are being inspired to go for Duke of Edinburgh bronze, and even gold. Jean McLeish reports

Dornoch Academy pupils are being inspired to go for Duke of Edinburgh bronze, and even gold. Jean McLeish reports

It is the ultimate test of teamwork and friendship - putting a tent up in a howling gale in fading light. "There must be another corner," says one of the girls. "If we put the pole in first, it might be easier for us," her friend says.

Fortunately, conditions are fair at the moment, as the third-years from Dornoch Academy go through the obligatory head-scratching to get their tent up in the school grounds.

This is a practice run for their Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Every young person who comes to this school does the Duke of Edinburgh bronze award in S3 and growing numbers then choose to go for gold.

The school holds an annual three-day training session for its 50 third- year pupils and they seem to be learning everything to help them survive their two-day expedition, and then some.

They are under the watchful eye of experts Ally Sangster and Irene Bews, two former teachers who run outdoor training company AdventuraScotland. They will train the pupils for the 24km expedition, then supervise and assess from a respectful distance when the third years make their journey and set up overnight camp.

There is also a first aid session with English teacher Norman Ross, a trainer and volunteer with the British Red Cross. "They will have an idea of how to put someone in recovery position, how to deal with choking, burns, fractures, bandaging and how to administer CPR," says Mr Ross, as he demonstrates techniques on a volunteer casualty.

"I think this is superb," says Mr Ross. "When I was at school, it was an add-on. Duke of Edinburgh was something you did outside the curriculum. Having it as part of the curriculum and part of learning I think is superb."

Pupils also get help with outdoor menu planning and hygiene skills in home economics from Elizabeth Sutherland, who is on secondment to the school from North Highland College.

Fourteen-year-old Rebecca MacLeod is satisfied their tent is now successfully assembled. "I am quite looking forward to the expedition," she says. The girls are not buying into any chat about missing their straighteners or needing their make-up. That will all be staying at home, the intrepid adventurers insist.

Head John Garvie has been running this programme as part of the curriculum in S3 for four years and about a third of the current S5s are going on to do gold. Dornoch Academy was one of a number of schools invited to take part in the pilot.

"The idea was to see how well the Duke of Edinburgh Award fitted in with Curriculum for Excellence," says Mr Garvie. "It was so successful that we decided we were going to do it every year and I have re-allocated school funds into it."

Where before, highly-motivated children might have done the Duke of Edinburgh award, encouraged by enthusiastic parents, now everyone here has the opportunity with support from school and teachers.

"Just the way you would pay for a textbook, we pay them through the award - we don't ask parents to pay for it. It's an entitlement, it's not just for the well-off kids, it's for everyone," says Mr Garvie.

"It has to be done outside school or it doesn't count. So what we are doing is using subjects inside school to support them doing things outside school. One of the sections of the award is skills, so they can choose skills like modern languages or cooking that they do in school, and then they do extra outside school."

Most pupils cover the physical recreation element of the award after school with support from PE staff, and training for their expedition is covered in and out of school time.

"Duke of Edinburgh gold is the number one extra that you can have over and above qualifications," says Irene Bews from AdventuraScotland. "It always has been and it is even more so nowadays, when places are competitive. So to have a Duke of Edinburgh gold really puts you in a different position."

Guitar and squash count for gold

School captain Christopher Hartley, 17, is one of 12 sixth-years about to complete their Duke of Edinburgh gold award. Their four-day expedition of 100km from Fort William to Dalwhinnie took them across some of Scotland's finest scenery.

Christopher thinks taking part gave him the edge with his university applications to study psychology. "I think it helped a lot with my uni applications, because my grades weren't what they could have been, to be honest.

"I put that I was busy completing my gold Duke of Edinburgh Award on my personal statement and I got five successful offers back."

For 18 months, as part of his voluntary work requirement, Christopher has been working with pupil support and has helped pupils with learning difficulties complete the expedition for their bronze award.

He has also been learning guitar for his skill section of the award, and improving his squash and supervising younger children in squash for the sport element. "It's quite a full agenda you have to fill, but it's worth it," he says.

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