The Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition – what’s to be gained?

Words by Pauline Stirling

The expedition section of the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) programme, like the other sections (physical, skills, volunteering, and at Gold level, residential) is driven by guiding principles which enable the DofE Award to be achievable by any young person who chooses to take up its challenge, regardless of ability, gender, background or location. By following these guiding principles, DofE aims to give any young person the opportunity to complete their DofE programme, regardless of their personal circumstances. Each section of a DofE programme gives young people an opportunity to be independent, self-sufficient and to be challenged. The expedition section, in particular, requires resilience and commitment, at all levels.

The value of a DofE Award to any young person cannot be underestimated. The personal and non-competitive nature of a DofE programme means that participants from different and diverse starting points can equally be proud of achieving a certificate based on their own personal challenge and development.

The DofE expedition section has 20 conditions. Variations to these conditions may be granted in exceptional circumstances based on the needs of the individual participant. For instance, a team may need to be shadowed by adults when out walking or some participants may need to carry a lighter rucksack. This makes the expedition section more accessible to all.

Over the last few weekends, I have been fortunate in assessing three quite different DofE teams of young people with additional needs on their expeditions. One team was Silver and two were Bronze. All three teams had been working hard on their routes and campcraft over a long period of time, well-supported by their Leaders and Supervisors. All participants required additional support and guidance from adults in one way or another, both in the planning and preparation of the expedition and during the expedition itself. The additional needs of the young people were based on either physical, mental or behavioural difficulties, and sometimes on a complex mixture of difficulties. Teamwork becomes an issue in these circumstances, when the young people’s needs are so diverse, but teamwork is also essential to the success of any expedition. All three teams were not only successful, but they also enjoyed the challenge.

All participants, from each of the teams, had already completed (or in one or two cases, very nearly completed) the other sections of their programmes. So completing the expedition (and then putting together a presentation about their project undertaken on expedition) means getting the Award. The DofE Award, at any level, is a great achievement for any young person. These young people will have the Award and also, following the expedition, they will have better navigational skills and campcraft skills. However, it makes me wonder what else they have taken away from the expedition? What has been gained that is difficult to measure: increased sense of independence; improved resilience; better self-esteem and self-confidence; feeling of satisfaction and achievement; improved social and organisational skills…and just the opportunity to get outside, have fun and explore.

In order for the young people to complete their expeditions safely, they had all been very well-trained in things like crossing roads, cooking and just looking out for each other. One team had such a step-by-step approach to cooking safely on stoves that I wondered how my teams had been doing it without injury all these years! This approach is certainly something I can take away from this experience.

Therefore, I too had something to learn from these recent expeditions: I developed my campcraft training skills. Every time I assess a team, I am aware that my navigational skills are improving. I also thoroughly enjoyed assessing each of these recent expeditions, as I have enjoyed assessing every DofE expedition. The chance to get outside and explore new routes, find footpaths (find the teams!), meet new people and check out different campsites. And knowing that I have facilitated an expedition that will have such a positive and long-lasting impact on a young person’s life, regardless of their ability, gender, background or location.

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