The Duke of Edinburgh's Award makes an "excellent" impact on young people, HMIE has concluded.
A report issued this week gave the strongest official endorsement yet to the increasing efforts of the award to become fully involved with the mainstream school curriculum. The potential contribution of the award to do so was "very significant indeed", the inspectors said.
The range of personal development activities undertaken by the 25,000 Scots who participate in the programme each year is regarded as particularly relevant in fulfilling the aims of A Curriculum for Excellence to make pupils learn successfully, become more confident, acquire responsibility and contribute to society.
HMIE found that young people involved in the DofE, which leads to awards at bronze, silver and gold levels, were gaining important skills from their experiences. "All young people met by inspectors reported increased confidence and self-esteem and, importantly, are developing independence, self-reliance and resilience," it noted.
"They talk with confidence about improving relationships, meeting new people and working co-operatively with others. There are numerous examples of young people achieving important skills for life and work . (They) talk about learning practical skills, planning more effectively and motivating others. Some are progressing to become leaders within DofE."
The inspectors were also impressed by the involvement of the award, which has worked hard to shake off its image of "privilege", with challenging groups. They visited the child and adolescent mental health team at The Royal Edinburgh Hospital, Perth Prison's Friarton Unit for young offenders, and an ADHD group in Perth. They found "strong completion rates".
The report is now urging DofE to reach out further to other marginalised people such as those with additional support needs and young care leavers.
But it is the benefits for schools which are a key priority. The inspectors note, however, that young people experience somewhat of a lottery in having access to the programme, depending on which local authority area they live in.
Currently, the award is involved with 66 per cent of secondary schools and its ambition is to reach 85 per cent. And, while 25,000 young people take part each year, that is only 3 per cent of the target 14-24 age group.
The DofE has been exploring how it can become more effective in its work with schools, via a Curriculum for Excellence national project in six schools in Highland, East Lothian and South Ayrshire. It aimed to enrol S3 pupils in award programmes at bronze level, if they wished. Highland invested pound;6,000, while the other two authorities contributed pound;10,000 each.
Barry Fisher, the director of the award in Scotland, is keen to emphasise how its programmes should be integrated with the mainstream in schools, rather than be treated as extra-curricular or sport. Queen Margaret Academy in Ayr, for example, has made it a mainstay of its personal and social education lessons. In South Ayrshire as a whole, new participants over the three levels increased by 51 per cent between 2008 and 2009; the number of bronze and silver awards completed increased by 330 per cent.
An even more thoroughgoing change has taken place at Dornoch Academy where, following extensive consultation by headteacher John Garvie with staff, parents and pupils, the award has been integrated into every aspect of learning in third year. All subjects make a link to relevant sections of the DofE programme, and the award's key ingredients of volunteering, developing skills undertaking physical activities and the expedition are regarded as an extension of pupils' learning.
In the past two school sessions, all of Dornoch's S3 pupils opted to take part and 90 per cent of those who started in the bronze programme completed it successfully, which is unprecedented in the UK (the Scottish average is 40 per cent).
The factors which contribute to the success of the award in Dornoch point to the problems of access for young people where they are absent elsewhere: strong leadership by the headteacher, commitment of resources, involvement of pupils and staff, a full-time youth development officer as DofE co-ordinator, and the close collaboration between the co-ordinator and school staff.
According to an assessment of the project to date, feedback from staff in all the schools involved suggests that the DofE may be an initiative whose time has come, as schools are expected to accentuate the totality of learning, not just attainment. The project "confirms that the DofE is the perfect framework to implement ACfE".