Humanities - The great outdoors

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
DofE hikes help students thrive

There is rightly much focus on academic qualifications for young people, but the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (DofE) offers participants - most aged 14-18 - the opportunity to stretch themselves and develop in other ways. They learn new skills, volunteer their time to help the local community and face physical challenges. Those who complete a bronze, silver or gold programme become more confident with a greater sense of responsibility.

Take Sophie, a quiet 14-year-old who signed up for bronze and was totally out of her depth on a two-day expedition in the New Forest. With the help of her friends she stuck it out and made it. Last year she did silver and this year she completed gold - a four-day Brecon Beacons challenge - as a confident young woman.

DofE also stands participants in good stead when it comes to getting a job or applying for university because it shows the applicant can use their initiative and is not afraid of a challenge. And it is an antidote to some of the unfortunate by-products of the digital age, in which many young people are cosseted and inactive.

I grew up in rural Herefordshire, just a stone's throw from the Brecon Beacons national park, and followed my passion to found A to Z Expeditions. Some of the students I meet are just amazing. Take Derar, who celebrated his 18th birthday on his gold expedition. He learnt to swim for the physical section, took up violin as a new skill and volunteered to help children learn to read.

Working with young people keeps me feeling young - even if, when it is cold and wet, you need a sturdy sense of humour and boundless enthusiasm. The rewards are tremendous. For all of us.

Zoe McLean is the founder of A to Z Expeditions



A to Z Expeditions offers tailor-made programmes of DofE training and expeditions for schools, groups and individuals. For more information visit


Visit the TES collection of videos from Green TV for a variety of environmental issues to discuss and debate with your pupils.

The Educational Visits collection on TES Resources will give you ideas for class trips, expeditions and investigations.

In the forums

One teacher looks for advice on hiking boots - can you make suggestions?

All resources and forum links at


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