We are just four days into the Summer Term and already there is so much to celebrate. We’ve had a week full of sunshine and smiles; as anticipated, the students have returned ready to get stuck in, keen to take full advantage of the things that are now possible. This week saw the first session of the senior Brighton Bees Netball Club – 29 players from across the city came together on court for a skills session in the afternoon sun; 88 students have signed up for the first Skateboard taster sessions next week (letters have gone out today to those on the list); 12 students have spent the day engaged in a cross-school, cross-curricular, creative collaboration as we launch our new partnership with Wimbledon High; plans for end-of-term activities are gathering pace, with bookings being confirmed at Hove Lagoon; and discussions about possible excursions to our Field Centre in Boughrood are gaining momentum.
After a year of excessive screen time and periods of inaction and inertia, it is no surprise to see this appetite for activity. It was in anticipation of this, as well as reflecting on recent news, that I chose to make the Duke of Edinburgh the theme for my assembly this week – not the man himself, but the legacy he left behind in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, a “youth awards programme that offers young people the chance to take on their own challenges, follow their own passion, discover new skills and make a difference in their community”, has been enjoyed by generations of students at Brighton Girls but, as I explained on Monday, it is something I wish to expand and develop – and now is the time to do it. The scheme challenges participants to select and set objectives in each of the following areas: volunteering (undertaking service to individuals or the community; physical (improving in an area of sport, dance or fitness activities); skills (developing practical and social skills and personal interests; expedition (planning, training for, and completion of an adventurous journey in the UK or abroad). The emphasis on service, team work, and personal challenge fits perfectly with our school values of being kind and being bold.
Having grown up in the Yorkshire Dales, where popping out to walk the dog often involved a mountain or two, I have always been a fan of the expedition element of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. Despite loving the great outdoors, it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I had the opportunity to get involved in DofE and, as I told the students on Monday, I can honestly say that some of the most enjoyable moments of my career have involved DofE expeditions (it is certainly true that I laughed a lot, and learnt a great deal, and I know this is true also of the students who took part). As an English teacher, when I asked students to write and deliver short anecdotes as part of their GCSE Speaking and Listening coursework, so many of their stories came from their DofE expeditions. These were students who travelled abroad often, and had many life experiences, yet all their stories came from DofE camping and walking trips: whether it was falling the mud in the Brecon Beacons, getting hopelessly lost in the New Forest, having to support a friend blighted by blisters, or cooking a disastrous meal back at camp, brilliant and hilarious stories would emerge year on year – stories of kindness, empathy, resilience, failure and triumph.
In fact, the DofE organisation has chosen to focus on stories and memories to commemorate Prince Phillip and to celebrate the legacy he left behind. If you go onto the DofE webpage at the moment, you will see that people are being asked to leave their stories or to share them on social media using #DofEthanks.
In establishing the scheme back in 1956, the Duke of Edinburgh was influenced by the philosophy of Kurt Hahn, a German educator who founded Gordonstoun, where Prince Phillip went to school. The scheme is modelled on Kurt Hahn’s solutions to what he ominously called his “Six Declines of Modern Youth”. These “declines” include, “the Decline of Fitness” due to modern methods of locomotion; the “Decline of Initiative and Enterprise” due to the widespread disease of “spectatoritis” (“excessive indulgence in forms of amusement in which one is a passive spectator rather than an active participant”); and the “Decline of Compassion” due to the unseemly haste with which modern life is conducted. Hahn’s “solutions” (fitness training, expeditions, projects and rescue service) form the basis and the core of the DofE scheme. When presenting these “Six Declines” to the Senior students on Monday, (without wishing to comment on “the youth of today”) I challenged them to consider whether some of Hahn’s “Declines” are relevant to our present lives, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic. How many of us have been guilty of “spectatoritis” in the past year, for example, more passive than active?
Following my assembly, I was delighted to receive an email from our incoming Head Girl, Molly Kronhamn, informing me that a sizeable group of Year 12 students were keen to gain their Silver DofE Awards (and this was accompanied by a promise that they would film their expedition in order to inspire others to take part).
Judging by this example, and by the general thirst for activity in school this week, there is certainly no sense that our students are in any way ‘declining’, or even reclining. Rather, I see them leaping into action and leaning in, grasping all the opportunities that are on offer.