It is extremely encouraging to be able to celebrate continuing growth and the setting of new records in each year of my chairmanship of this great charity. I am delighted to report that this makes 2017-18 our 5th consecutive year of record activity and achievement. We knew that it was going to be difficult to build on the success of our exceptional Diamond Anniversary year, when we asked so much of our staff and volunteers, but they have not slowed down delivering an extraordinary year for the young people of the United Kingdom.
The primary aim of our charity is to support as many young people as possible to achieve the benefits of a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. This year 142,961 achieved their Bronze, Silver or Gold Award, an increase of 7.2% over the previous year. This is not only a record number for the DofE in the UK, and also within our family of international DofE organisations, we really are the world’s leading achievement award for young people.
The number of DofE Award new starters also hit a new high, with 275,988 starting either a Bronze, Silver or a Gold Award an increase of 1.7 % on last year.
Our online systems now let us see just how many participants are actively pursuing their Award at any time; and at our year-end there were 438,329 actively engaged in doing their DofE. Yes – another all-time record I am proud to report.
Our research tells us that the DofE has a disproportionately positive impact on young people from a disadvantaged background. Again, our online systems allow us to measure and record this activity more accurately. Our aim has been to ensure that at least 20% of those starting their DofE are from a defined disadvantaged group. Our year-on-year progress adjusted now that we have more accurate information, shows that a total of 62,998 disadvantaged young people were supported, accounting for 22.8% of our activity last year. This is hugely rewarding and we will be reviewing our targets in this area as we begin to invest our Diamond Fund enabling even more disadvantaged young people to access the benefits of taking part in the DofE.
While I am delighted to be able to report all these great achievements, I must also acknowledge that our ambitions for the youth of the UK exceed our current ability to deliver. We continue to be frustrated by the cuts in local authority youth services, and the financial pressures that schools have to contend with. These factors restrain the pace at which we are able to build our network to meet the demand, a network that relies on the voluntary effort of thousands of teachers, youth workers and active citizens. I want to take this opportunity to thank the 40,000 plus key people who choose to use their own discretionary free time to support young people through the DofE. Your efforts are nothing less than amazing and we are proud of your association with the DofE and in awe of the personal commitment you make to those taking part and our charity. Thank you so very much!
We have continued to grow our structure of Licensed Organisations over the year and now have 3,019 licensed concerns, an increase of 16% year-on-year. This network of mainly directly licensed schools born out of the necessity, to fill the gap left by local authorities no longer able to support DofE delivery, has proved to be a remarkable success. Whilst we have capped our licence fees for this year and next, we have uplifted our investment in these schools and other youth organisations through training and funding support. This financial investment has been principally through the efforts of our incredible supporters who took part in the Diamond Challenge Fundraiser boosted further with a £1m funding match from the #iWill fund in England and our own development funds in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. We started to receive applications in the reported year and expect to see the real beneficial impact of this funding in the current one.
Whilst the total income generated at £16.4m showed an expected reduction from the Diamond year (£19.3m), the charity was able to increase the amount of charitable spending whilst still strengthening the reserves position. These reserves include Diamond funds targeted to be spent on disadvantaged groups over the next 3 years and will be match funded by a £1m grant from #Iwill.
Savings of £1.3m were made in the year on year cost of fundraising allowing a further £1m to be channelled into charitable spending, which was primarily used to fund additional operational staffing to support the increasing local requirements due to the growth of the Award and the increasing proportion of Directly Licensed Centres.
A further £0.2m was generated from returns on the investment portfolio, in line with our investment strategy and targeted returns.
The overall position was an increase in funds of £1.2m, giving the charity a firm foundation for the investment in growth and support initiatives.
As a responsible charity board, we aim to control and oversee our finances prudently and to ensure that the DofE is able to support future generations of young people we manage our level of reserves with caution and care. However, this approach together with our recent fundraising success may present an impression that our organisation is not in need of support as much as some other charities. This would be patently wrong and I want to reassure donors without ambiguity that their funds are very much needed and actively used. The Diamond Fund is a good example of hard-won monies that will appear as a positive balance on our accounts, but are already committed to work directly for the benefit of disadvantaged young people. In addition, we have clear plans of action to utilise reserves and development funds to invest in the expansion of our network’s capacity to engage more young people going forward. So, if you are in a position to support the DofE financially, please do not hesitate. We want, need and appreciate hugely your help and support – it is vital.
Let me please take this opportunity to thank all of our supporters who have helped the DofE positively change the lives of young people and in particular those whose exceptional commitment has given us the confidence to invest in our employed team and the growth of our network. Thank you to our Strategic Partners – Heathrow, Amey, British Gas and St James’s Place Wealth Management and our major supporters Pears Foundation, Gosling and RSM.
Age Range Pilot
We have been piloting an extension to our lower age ranges at Bronze and Silver to accommodate whole school year groups. This has been widely welcomed and has enabled leaders in schools and out of school to offer the DofE to young people who would in the past have been excluded from taking part with their year group cohort because they are just below the lower age limit for their level. We have been delighted with the response from schools in particular, and will be seeking to make this change a permanent feature.
Bronze Expedition Pilots
We have reflected on the barriers preventing young people from completing their Award and perhaps even starting one in the first place. The Bronze Award in particular is a fundamental game changer for many young people so we have targeted Bronze level to increase the numbers achieving their Award. Our research tells us that the Expedition section can often be the stumbling block to completing an Award, and can also be off-putting to young people considering starting their challenge. We have identified a range of options to address this and will be piloting them over the coming year in order to assess their impact and consider whether there should be any change to our programme guidance. We expect to be able to report on this in the spring of 2019.
We are working with designers and creative teams to consider the next generation of materials to support young people starting on their DofE programme. The current Welcome Pack and materials were designed to support the transition from the old Record Book to our online record book, eDofE. Our online systems professionally evolved are well developed and the time is now right to strengthen our approach further and provide a new type of online stimulus and support both to young people starting their DofE and importantly to their parents/carers whose guidance can be an important ingredient to the achievement of an Award.
We will also be launching a new partnership with Go Outdoors and the other fascias in the JD Group of outdoor gear companies. We anticipate this partnership will be a real winner for our young participants and their parents, with generous discount deals.
The level of information we are now able to obtain through our online systems is helping us to identify the best Award delivery more clearly, and is highlighting the key role played by volunteer DofE Managers. Our biggest challenge is to meet demand from young people by ensuring that we have the capacity to deliver in every school and group. The most effective DofE Managers are actively “managing” the DofE in their school or group, rather than simply “running” it. They have involved around them teams of volunteers – usually teaching colleagues, parents and past pupils – to “run” the Award programme itself, while they “manage” the Award by orchestrating the activities and marshalling the resources to make it all possible. This is a great skill set deserving of recognition and in the coming year, we’ll be working on a high level DofE Management programme linked to the professional development of teachers and other youth work professionals. We aim for this to set the standard, and to reward exceptional skills and delivery.
We have identified a positive opportunity to support older students and apprentices to develop their work and life skills through the DofE by improving our reach into Further Education and Apprenticeships. There is a significant element of our age range that we believe we can serve better. We have some excellent examples of colleges and apprenticeship programmes utilising the DofE programme to great effect and we plan to expand on this in the coming year. There will be Further Education pilot programmes in each UK county and region that will help us to explore the barriers and opportunities to greater involvement in that sector and we will work with our corporate partners to expand the use of DofE within apprenticeships.
So many opportunities and challenges, so much to celebrate and a great deal more to look forward to in the year ahead.
Thanks a million!
The Lord Kirkham CVO
Chair of Trustees
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award