Janet’s view of DofE (a parent’s view)

The Duke of Edinburgh scheme is a fantastic opportunity for young people to engage in life skills, push the boundaries and experience opportunities that they would never have dreamt of.

As a parent of twins I encouraged both Lily and her brother Freddie to participate in the DofE Award because the opportunity it gives to practise so many of the skills required in the modern work place and for life in general are so important to be nurtured from a young age. Setting personal goals, stretching your self to achieve more, communication skills, teamwork and organisation skills being key. But the DofE also gives young people the opportunity to think about their physical and mental health. The volunteering recognises the importance of giving to others and reaping the rewards of making a difference by working with charities and other organisations. Importantly it’s about continuous learning and having fun through new experiences.

As a parent we have given our children encouragement to have a go and try out new things. Of course there is the purchasing of equipment which does add up but my advice would be to ensure that from the beginning  you buy a good pair of fitted walking boots and walking socks and a fitted ruck sack. A good investment will last from Bronze to Gold and beyond. There would be nothing worse than students setting off on their expedition and getting a blister. This would seriously impact on their experience. Like-wise a well-fitted rucksack is key, we learnt from experience. Lily borrowed her first ruck sack from her 6 foot cousin, it  nearly toppled her over once she had packed it to the top and lasted all of one night before it split down one side on the Bronze expedition.

Our school and First 4 Adventure really prepares the students for the expeditions with planning days and practice expeditions. They are well equipped and by the Gold expedition they have their packing of essentials down to a fine art and a minimum. They take safety very seriously and so I never worried that Lily would be in any danger at all. For example during Lily’s silver DofE practice expedition to the Peak District it was one of the most freezing  March weather conditions in the UK, the girls were advised to bring extra clothing for warmth and  bedding for the evening which were transported for them. I was never nervous for Lily on her Gold DofE because she was just so excited about the adventure and wanting to achieve the 4/ 5 day experience. Indeed one of Lily’s key feedback has been that she has felt so privileged to have experienced some of the Country’s most beautiful landscapes: The Peak District, The Lake District, Snowdonia and Rutland. Freddie went canoeing in the River Severn and The Thames.

I have seen Lily grow during this experience, she has matured into a confident and responsible individual. She has gained so many life and survival skills.  From the early days of packing and repacking the bag for the Bronze expedition which seem to take us days to get packed to getting the Gold packing down to a fine art. Lily certainly does not do the overpacking she did at the beginning. The DofE prepared her well for the World Challenge which was a month in Malaysia last summer. Nothing phased Lily about this experience because she had learnt all the skills throughout the DofE.

Lily has been so enthused by her DofE experience that she really didn’t want it to finish. She became a DofE mentor at her school to support other girls through their Bronze. This skill and qualification was recognised when she went for her University interviews. She is the DofE prefect and promotes the DofE as one of her biggest achievements. Universities love to see the Gold Award as a skill that stands prospective students out from others. Indeed in today’s job market, I would always look for applicants that have completed their DofE; qualifications whilst important are just one part of an application, completing the Gold shows an applicant with determination, motivation and energy. All attributes required in the world of work.

Juggling the Award and exams, especially when it comes to GCSEs and A levels, can be challenging but I think that students who have the chance to free their minds and do something other than study makes for a richer experience and healthier attitudes to learning. This is a life experience that can’t be missed but can also be completed over time and up to the age of 25.  Freddie left school after GCSEs, having completed his Bronze and Silver DofE. He went to Agricultural College who did not do the DofE so he has continued independently volunteering at the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and qualifying in ocean diving as his physical. He joined First 4 Adventure for his Gold practise in Snowdonia and actual expedition to the Lake District. First 4 Adventure were supportive and ensured Freddie was able to join a group of teenagers who he had never met before and within a matter of hours they had become new friends. He had a wonderful learning experience, achieved his Gold expedition, gained confidence and despite not knowing anyone when he first arrived he soon learnt how to get on with a new people and the importance of teamwork, negotiation and communication skills. They have maintained an active online chat group.

My advice is if your children want to have a go then support them. I am sure that through the DofE Lily has an enthusiasm for adventure and always giving things a go and experiencing new opportunities in life. Freddie has no worries about any adventure and has used the skills learnt from the DofE expeditions to give him the confidence to go backpacking and volunteering in Nepal last summer.

Lily should have been going to Buckingham Palace on in May 2020 to receive her GOLD Award but alas COVID 19 will now mean that has been arranged for later in the year. This in itself is a huge motivational factor, once Lily had completed the Bronze and then the Silver there was no question about not doing the Gold , she had her sights firmly on the GOLD award at the end and a chance to meet the Royal family. Freddie has to finish the final 3 months of his physical and volunteering once the COVID 19 rules are relaxed and aims to complete his Gold this year.

The DofE award is an adventure and I highly commend it to you and your children.

Dr Janet Williamson