Pitching tents - and pitching in to the community

3rd July 2015 at 01:00
Volunteer numbers rocket under Duke of Edinburgh's Award

It may call to mind images of unenthusiastic teenagers trudging up Ben Nevis in a bid to add a bit of polish to their CVs, but such stereotypes about the Duke of Edinburgh's Award (DofE) are looking rather outdated.

New statistics show that demand for the scheme is increasing rapidly - and it's having a very real impact on communities beyond the school gates.

Driven by the new requirements of Curriculum for Excellence, Scottish students are embracing the possibility of volunteering in record numbers. In 2013-14 alone, young people taking part in DofE contributed almost 400,000 hours to their local communities. This is up from just under 194,000 hours in 2008-09.

Barry Fisher, director of DofE in Scotland , said: "Volunteering is probably the greatest untold success story of [DofE] and how it makes the young people engage with the community.

"Our figures are minimum hours and do not represent the many more hours that young people do. This is such a crucial part of the process. When I speak to young people it is maybe the part they take the most from."

DofE is divided into four sections: volunteering, physical, skills and expedition. Mr Fisher said: "They probably remember the expedition, but the volunteering is the part they learn the most from."

He added that CfE had helped the scheme grow so much that it was now delivered in nine out of 10 Scottish schools. Demand is so high that thousands more young people are keen to take part than are able to do so.

Speaking to TESS, Mr Fisher said the growth of the scheme in the past five years could be directly linked to "the opportunities provided by Curriculum for Excellence".

He said: "In schools, we have gone from 65 per cent to 90 per cent in 2015. We clearly want to build on that."

Mr Fisher added that a recent survey by DofE Scotland showed that at least 2,000 young people currently wanted to take part in the awards but were unable to do so. This was the result of capacity issues, he explained, some of them within school settings. He said that training new leaders now had to be a focus of the organisation.

Going for gold

The figures come as hundreds of young people are set to celebrate achieving the Gold Award, the highest level of the programme. At ceremonies held yesterday and today at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, 871 young people will meet the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured left), who founded the scheme 59 years ago. Of these, 436 come from local authority schools. A further 331 are from independent schools and 104 from groups such as Scouts Scotland and Girlguiding Scotland.

The number of Gold Award participants has risen steadily, from 537 in 2008-09 to 942 in 2013-14. And this growth has not been confined to the schools sector. Edinburgh College now offers the scheme to sports and leisure students, and Forth Valley College has started delivery with its WorkStart group.

Mr Fisher said that despite pledges by the education sector to recognise success beyond academic results, challenges remained over how achievements in the community could be articulated in formal settings.

He said: "There are awards ceremonies happening across the country where there is much more focus on young people achieving in a variety of ways, but the more formal part of that, formal profiling, is something we all should continue to focus on improving."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "Alongside Education Scotland, we are working with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and other members of the Awards Network to ensure that qualifications, awards and wider achievements continue to be promoted and valued through Education Scotland's inspection processes, profiling and other activities.

"Education Scotland inspectors are currently undertaking an aspect review of the Awards Network and this will be published at the end of the summer."

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