Barry Fisher

27th July 2012 at 01:00
The director of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scotland discusses the expanding role of technology in the scheme, the all-time high in participation rates among young people and how schools can use the awards in Curriculum for Excellence. Interview by Julia Belgutay

Why is taking part in a DofE award not just a school trip?

It takes a long time to get it. A lot of people focus in on the expedition, but once you get involved it's only one of the four sections of the programme. The first level, bronze, takes a minimum of six months of activity, based on an hour a week. It is a big commitment.

How did you get involved?

As a young person, I did DofE at Arran High School. We had great access to the environment, and there were lots of inspiring people prepared to take you out, so I was quite lucky. I didn't complete my DofE, because once I got involved with the Ocean Youth Trust through DofE, my interests were quite concentrated.

The award has been around for 56 years - has it changed?

Surprisingly little. What has changed is the type of activities people get involved in. We as an organisation have embraced technology through eDofE, the way in which young people now record their activity, upload photographs and comments. Leaders have much more information about young people and work more efficiently, and we finally have real-time data, which allows us to be really efficient.

Do the young people get any formal qualifications - UCAS points or SCQF credit rating?

No. It can't be rated on the SCQF, because it is not a learning outcome- based programme. We are perfectly comfortable with that. Things within the programme can be credited.

How is the programme financed?

Local authorities support it in a number of different ways. As an organisation, we are funded through participation, so young people pay a fee - typically pound;14 for a bronze, rising to pound;20 for gold. We also charge a licence fee to organisations. We have had some support from the Scottish government, but we also have to fundraise.

What is the cost to parents of a child going through a DofE?

I genuinely believe that young people who want to do it can get access to hiring equipment. People choose to support young people by buying their kit for them, but I don't think it is necessary. If a young person wants to do quad-biking for their physical section, that is going to cost slightly more, but CLD (community learning development) programmes run football, free swimming opportunities with leisure cards and so on.

Participation figures are the highest they have ever been - why?

We have worked really hard with our team to get out and see our partners, engage with them, particularly with local authorities around Curriculum for Excellence. A number of local authorities have used the catalyst of CfE to bring the DofE into the offer of schools. Teachers and heads have learned that our expedition section could as easily be a historical project, or a study on flora and fauna. We have also seen a lot more in community-based settings.

Have there been any problems for the organisation with growing so quickly?

I'm frustrated that we haven't been able to support our partners better and I'm genuinely quite excited about where we are getting to now. DofE is a small charity in Scotland. That's a good thing, but how do we really support people delivering on a wet Thursday night in Balloch? I think we are getting better, because we have the resources now to have a person for each region. So we can say to a leader: "Actually, we can come out and help you."

What is the most important skill young people learn through the DofE?

Resilience. You can't get it in a weekend. There is something pretty good about young people volunteering every Saturday for six months, 12 months or 18 months.

Employers are increasingly looking for young people to show they have completed programmes like DofE. Why is that?

I think there is an opportunity for young people to express what gets them up in the morning, their passions and what they think they can do. Employers want to know young people come with those kinds of skill sets.

Can you envisage a situation where one day a DofE would have the same importance as an exam pass in a particular subject for your university or college application?

I don't see it that way. It is not about saying "this is equivalent to . " at all. It is painting a more complete picture of that individual.

With young people's lives evolving so much around technology, is there a risk the DofE will go out of fashion?

We are doing our bit to use that space positively with the DofE. There is a real challenge for a charity that relies on a lot of external donations to keep that space live; it costs money to develop it. But I am really quite proud of an organisation that has embraced that; eDofE's relevance to people is also all about the activities they do. The ability for young people to build individualised programmes means it is future-proofed.

In the four years you have been in post, what has been the highlight?

I had a letter from the head of Kersland School, who said "because this young person has done DofE, this young person has got a job. This is the first time someone has got a job at Kersland School". That is a proud moment. Those are the things I would look back on really positively - numbers don't feel very personal to me.


Born: Irvine, 1972

Education: Melsonby Methodist Primary, Yorkshire; Whiting Bay Primary and Arran High, Argyll and Bute; Auchincruive Agricultural College (leisure and recreation management)

Career: Volunteer and young leader Ocean Youth Trust; area manager OYT; charity officer, Rangers Football Club; assistant secretary, Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scotland; director, Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scotland since 2008.

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