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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 07/07/2009

In 1972 I had a job as a college lecturer out in Dalkeith. I was teaching English and Social Studies to lots of day release students and pre-apprentices. One of the younger boys chose to write an essay about his experience of ‘the chookie enborazaward’.  It took me some time to  realise that what this lad was enthused by was the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. What was evident was the fact he was extremely proud of, and motivated by, his achievements.

The DofE, as it is now usually called, started way back in 1956 as a result of the educational philosophy of the founder of Gordonstoun – an upmarket public school in Moray – Kurt Hahn.  Hahn had been involved in teaching boys for years and was acutely aware of what was not only character forming but also motivational for them. The award originally was aimed only at boys but within a few years was open to girls. As my personal experience testifies within  less than two decades the award scheme was motivating lads from life experiences very different from those attending Gordonstoun.

In the past couple of years I have spoken at a number of events for staff and volunteers involved in the DofE. Last week I gave a talk at a lunch associated with the annual gold award ceremony and then was one of the presenters handing out certificates to those receiving gold awards in the gardens of Holyrood Palace.

I was asked to do this for one simple reason – what the Centre is saying on confidence, and the whole analysis I put forward in my book Creating Confidence – fits entirely with the design of the DofE award scheme. Indeed at my lunch time talk I said to the various Directors of Education who were at the event that if they want to encourage confidence, as part of their responibilites under the new Curriculum for Excellence, then they should encourage and support their secondary schools in becoming involved in the awards scheme.

Very few people seem to know how the Dof E works.  There are three level of awards – bronze, silver and gold. To participate in bronze you have to be at least 14 and commit yourself to six months activity. For silver the age is 15 and a year long commitment is required. The same is true of gold and participants need to be at least 16. At each level the award is divided into four parts -  service (volunteering); acquisition of personal skills; a physical activity involving sport, fitness or dance; and an expedition requiring team work. At the gold level the expedition must have a residential element. The young people themselves decide on their own programme of activities. At the award ceremony I was aware of really big differences in the type of personal skills pursued; I spoke to one girl who had chosen embroidery, another dance teaching and another driving.

So why are we such passionate supporters of this type of approach? Those who are frequent visitors to the site and to my blog will have some idea of our concern about the overprotection of young people and the growing narcissism and individualism of our culture. Bearing these in mind, here’s a list of ten reasons why we would like more youngsters to be involved in the DofE: It -

  1. Teaches goal setting – an important life skill
  2. Emphasises challenge and acquiring real skills
  3. Gives the opportunity for a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.
  4. Is not based on a philosophy of overprotection but challenge with support – the circumstances that fosters resilience.
  5. Creates good role models for young people.
  6. Gives the individual young person responsibility for their learning and their goals. This is a good example of personalised learning.
  7. Emphasises team work and the skills employers are looking for.
  8. Builds physical activity into the award.
  9. Makes expeditions, (being outdoors) an inherent part of the award.
  10. Gives prominence to the importance of volunteering.

At the lunch the other day two girls were interviewed about their experience of  the gold award. They recounted how it increased their motivation at school, improved their communication skills and their ability to work in a team. It gave them a real sense of achievement. But most of all the word they kept using over and over was ‘confidence’ – confidence in their ability to learn, to speak in the class, to achieve their goals … .
In his ground breaking paper ‘Obliquity’ the Scottish economist John Kay warns of the danger in our target driven world of taking too direct and crude approach to goals and also of dismissing the wisdom inherent in many traditional approaches. The Dof E may well have been devised decades ago in a stuffy, public school environment with a lot of toffs but it works.

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