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 www.azexpeditions.com
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.
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