I will say publicly that I am a great fan of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Actually I think that the D of E himself, even as a bit of a fusty old royal, is still good value for money. I like outrageous older people.
Despite not being attached to any one school I do still have the opportunity to get involved with the scheme as I am a qualified Summer Mountain Leader and in some places ML’s are in short supply.
My last trip was with Redborne Upper School and I ended up being attached to a group of girls who had not done the Bronze Award but had come straight in to the Silver on a special dispensation.
As we set off down the road it became abundantly clear to me that the group were very inexperienced. A bit of a giveaway was the answer to my question when I asked one of the girls if she had ever carried a rucksack before to which she replied ‘from the car to the minibus’.
Approaching the first map point I explained that we would soon have our ‘kit crisis’. They weren't sure what I meant but shortly up the first hill it hit us as one of the girls broke down into tears and said she couldn't do it. I’m not sure what ‘it’ was but ‘it’ wasn’t being helped by the fact that she was using her Dad’s rucksack which was still set up for him. At this point I got everyone to take their rucksacks off whilst I either adjusted them properly to fit or repacked the contents.
We then set off again with me carrying the sobbing girl’s sack and she taking mine under the reassurance that she was on the trip to learn - not suffer. (A spot of genuine ‘scaffolding’ perhaps?) I soon realized that after the ‘kit crisis’ we were suffering the ‘significance scare’ when all that everyone talked about was how far it was and their fear of not being able to complete the trip.
Fortunately the diversion we so desperately needed appeared for me when one of the girls asked why there couldn’t be a glamping version of the scheme to which I said ‘What a Duke of Gledinburgh Award?’. Everyone started laughing and after deciding that we would shorten it to the D of Glee Award and have Prince Harry as its Head we walked along laughing and joking about gold, platinum and diamante levels of award and D & G branded tents and the whole mood lifted and we were on our way.
At the coffee stop (mine that is) I handed the sack back to its original owner and let the girls take the lead. By lunchtime they were feeling much more positive about the entire trip and once I had given them some suggestions for lunches which didn’t involve just pot noodles and taken half their gear off them (one girl had genuinely brought a toweling robe, slippers and a full vanity case with her) they set off without me.
They all finished the expedition and they ‘finished strong’ and were rightly very proud of themselves. For me the nicest thing was that they all thanked me for my help and wrote me some very funny little poems on spare waymarker cards which I delighted in showing my wife and children when I got home. Could this be the most rugged form of AfL ever?
This was teaching in its widest sense at its best. I was able to provide just the right amounts of support and help based on many expeditions worth of experience, my knowledge of the outdoors and good levels of fitness before allowing them to enjoy some truly independent learning.
As for this summer – there is one expedition in the diary otherwise I am open to offers!