At the Queen Katherine School, we recognise the importance of inclusivity, irrespective of circumstance or background. As part of this, in September 2017, we decided to make The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) part of the Year 9 wider curriculum offer.
The DofE has always been strong in the school, but due to limitations we capped the numbers of students that could enrol onto their programme to 49 – seven groups of seven. In the past, we’ve received over 80 applications. We realised that the application process was screening out some of the students that would benefit most from doing their DofE. We wanted everyone who wanted to enrol, to be able to do so – so we met as a team to work out a new way of enabling the whole year group to do their DofE at Bronze level.
Inclusivity should mean that everyone gets a chance to take part. We took away barriers that were preventing some of our students. Costs is the obvious one, but confidence is a very close second. Support from the DofE helped pay for Pupil Premium student’s enrolment. Parents were invited to ‘support’ another student, to help with their costs and funding has also been sourced through sponsorship from local companies.
Changes in the approach to organising the expeditions at a reasonable cost was our biggest challenge. We had to move away from one staff mentor per group to an assembly-style presentation to share information. This allows us to ensure that all students have the important information and that we cover the basics before moving into smaller groups to route plan etc. First Aid has been brought into the curriculum for all of Year 9 and expedition training and supervision has been completed by a mixture of school and freelance staff.
At the Queen Katherine School we are in a position that allows us to have a permanent DofE Co-ordinator working three days a week for all things DofE, and a part-time Expedition Co-Ordinator. This has made a huge difference to the delivery of the DofE in the school as it is now possible to give all our students the opportunity to do their DofE and give them the support and encouragement they need to complete and achieve their Award.
Last year for the first time, the school’s Expedition Co-ordinator, Tim, was able to offer half day taster sessions to potential Bronze Award participants who were unsure if they should enrol. This gave the students the chance to experience putting tents up and cooking on trangias in the school Community Garden – this proved an enjoyable and beneficial experience, it gave those who lacked confidence the encouragement to take the next step and sign up, leading to more students signing up to do their programme.
Flexibility and creativity have been the key to ensuring a DofE programme is truly open to all. Over the summer we’ve been able to offer a canoe expedition at Gold level. This has enabled one student who suffers from ME to successfully complete her Gold Award. Using rafted canoes for a four-day loch, river and sea journey in North West Scotland – facilitated by some of her load being shared by her team members and her gear being transported by paddle power. Slight tweaks in support were also made to ensure that a registered blind student could complete her Bronze walking expedition with her peers.
This year we are liaising with Sandgate Special School, co-located at The Queen Katherine School. Our aim is to work with the School and the National Autistic Society in Cumbria who are looking to help all autistic students access the DofE in our local area. We are excited about the prospect of assisting some of our students with this specialist help. We also want to look at ways in which Sandgate School students can take part in their DofE – all very much part of our aim to increase inclusivity within our school and local community.
Many students showed great determination, resilience and leadership skills to complete the
expeditions in the hot weather. Our students come from varied backgrounds. For the first time, we had many DofE participants who had never really left the town before, despite Kendal’s proximity to the Lake District. Camping, walking with a back pack for two days and cooking for themselves was so out of the ordinary for them, the nerves started to kick in and students learnt resilience and determination through the challenges.
We’ve made space in the school curriculum to calendar expeditions in during the school week. Because of this, more staff are willing and able to volunteer, giving everyone involved a much better experience. The addition of regular freelance outdoor staff brings additional expertise, detailed local knowledge and also ensures that working relationships between students and staff are strengthened.
After our first year of offering Bronze DofE to all of Year 9 we have seen a much bigger buy in from students and staff across the year groups. Over 120 Year 9 students enrolled and started their DofE, this increased the uptake in extra-curricular activities after school, enabling students to complete their Skill and Physical sections. It supported our wider curriculum aims that every student will take part in at least one lunchtime club or afterschool activity.
An important component in achieving inclusivity within the school, and a more inclusive DofE offering, has been the growing understanding by the school staff that completing one or two sections, for certain students, is a massive achievement and that ‘the ones who were never going to complete should not start’ attitude which might have prevailed is now being challenged.
A lot of Queen Katherine School students enjoy helping others through their volunteering and we celebrated this through our Facebook and Twitter accounts in #proudtobelong.
As a school, we will continue to encourage inclusivity by offering the DofE to all young people. Offering the opportunity to learn and develop new skills that will not only benefit them at school, but ones they can take with them to further and higher education and into the workplace.