story 21 July 2023

How the DofE at Chiltern Way creates a pathway for life

Matt is a DofE Manager at Chiltern Way Academy, a trust that supports schools for young people who have additional needs across the autism and behavioural spectrum. They believe in creating a pathway to help their young people get the best outcome in life, something DofE does, says Matt.

“Schools like ours have the perception of being a ‘naughty boys school’ but we’re trying to change that and show all the good things our young people are doing. You hear so much negativity in the press, like county lines, anti-social behaviour, and the good things often go unnoticed because the bad parts dominate headlines but that’s why we’re here; to prove people wrong.”

“We started running the DofE in 2018 and it’s one of the most successful and popular subjects the trust offers, we really see out students some into their own through their DofE. It’s not just that they’re gaining a qualification, it’s everything that comes with it. One of the biggest challenges our young people face when they first come to us is their social and communication skills. The expedition section in particular teaches them how to make friends properly, I started to notice that they stop trying to push people away, they became more independent and also how to work as a team. They make friendships and memories that are difficult to replicate in the adult classroom and this is something they can take into their adult lives.”

“We offer a range of activities that the young people can do for their DofE, but we tailor each group to make sure they’re interested in what they are doing. We know that if they’re not enjoying it, it’s not going to work. One group were really keen on mountain biking so for their Skills section they learned bike maintenance and building a pump track; two of the boys who created a pump track in school and now have jobs in construction. We know that by tailoring these activities to what they enjoy, they’re going to show up and get a lot out of it. Our groups are very hands on so the Physical section is usually easy to fulfil. Some of out young people have gone from learning how to ride a bike with us to becoming accomplished cyclists. One of the things that stood out to me was during a bike ride when one of the boys said it was “the best day of his life”. He’d been having a lot of issues at home and he was struggling to cope and something as simple as going on a bike ride was an escape for him and a break from reality. He’s now getting really into his cycling.”

“For some of our students, they might not have been to the beach before. We took them to the Peak District for their Gold expedition and several of them said they felt like they were in Lord of the Rings! One of the students saw the tent during the expedition as a luxury item for him and said it was one of the best night’s sleep he’d ever had as he was used to sleeping with his siblings. Another one of the group had sever anxiety and really struggled with coping mechanisms or humour, I saw first-hand how he really came out of his shell during his Gold Award. The boys in his expedition group took him under their wing and guided him. As a result his confidence and independence grew and he became more comfortable taking the lead on activities.”

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