From education to employment

Raising the participation age and the DofE

Peter Westgarth is chief executive of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

The Department for Education has Raised DofE Participation Age

The Department for Education’s proposal to raise the participation age rolls out across the country this summer, bringing with it added pressures for FE institutions to come up with new ways of teaching to ensure young people remain engaged until their 17th and, from 2015, 18th birthday.

Peter Westgarth, CEO at The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award explains how the DofE can be used as a framework to help staff at FE institutions prevent students becoming disengaged and engage with those who are looking for alternative options post 16.

“The introduction of raised participation age is intended to ensure all young people are better equipped for life and work once they leave education or training but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is likely to alienate those young people who would have previously left the system.

The Department for Education’s 2012 report ‘Participating in learning post-16: effective practice in schools’ highlighted that institutions which developed bespoke provision for individual pupils to meet specific needs were most effective in keeping them in education.

This is where providing The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as part of an FE Institution’s offer fits in. The DofE programme offers each participant the chance to develop their own tailored range of sectional activities, Bronze and Silver DofE programmes consist of four sections and Gold has five.

A DofE participant can choose their own activities for each of the sections, resulting in an entirely personalised programme of measurable development:

  • 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.
  • At Gold level, participants must do an additional fifth Residential section which involves staying and working away from home doing a shared activity.

The parallels don’t end there. Here at the DofE, our aim is to enable young people to reach their full potential whatever their circumstances. Our ethos is to enable every young person of every background to do their DofE and succeed, regardless of any barriers. This is mirrored in the reasoning the Department for Education gives for raising the participation age – to give all young people the opportunity to develop the skills they need for adult life and to achieve their full potential.

Breaking barriers

But what about those young people who experience barriers to learning? While undertaking their DofE benefits all young people, it has proved particularly successful in engaging ‘hard to reach’ individuals. The DofE can help you to reengage those who struggle with the academic setting of classroom learning by introducing new measures of success to their lives, separate to qualifications and grades.

Learning a new sport and tracking development over a sustained period of time builds self-esteem and confidence as new talents are discovered. Volunteering in the community and helping other people develops a sense of self-worth as well as responsibility. Testing physical and mental strength while on an expedition builds character and confidence in ways that cannot be compared to academic success.

The beauty of the DofE is that completing an Award inspires a sense of adventure but it also requires resilience and commitment. It enables young people to see how their efforts add value and impact, both to themselves and others which in turn drives a sense of responsibility and a change in attitude which encourages continued engagement.

New measures of success

In partnering with the DofE, FE institutions will be in a position to offer young people an optional programme which both challenges and inspires them while offering measurable success that is gained in the great outdoors or in the heart of the community rather than exam halls and classrooms.

Don’t just take my word for it though, The Department for Education’s ‘Participating in learning post-16: effective practice in schools’ cites The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as a programme which instils a sense of responsibility and purpose in young people. The report includes the DofE as an activity which promotes independence and enterprise, a key approach in preventing students from becoming disengaged post 16.

Bringing the outdoors in

The lessons students learn while doing their DofE count towards much more than their award.  The skills and attributes participants gain through completing their sections will stay with them for life.

We’ve found that those who’ve completed an Award become better at relating to all adults as a result of working with DofE Leaders outside the classroom, which can be translated to indoor learning environments and will come across in future job interviews.

Furthermore, the DofE helps young employees to achieve their full potential in the workplace by setting them up with the skills and attributes employers are crying out for, such as confidence, resilience, communication and team work. These are the skills which employers and the CBI constantly report a lack of in young people today.

The DofE is seen as a mark of excellence amongst employers, Mel Ewell, Chief Executive at Amey, one of our DofE Business partners, believes that the DofE is ‘incredibly important’ and offers young people fresh challenges.

So how does the DofE help you to engage more young people? in offering alternative measures of success which can be translated into working life alongside academic programmes, your students will be able to experience and overcome new challenges which can help to reignite enthusiasm and a desire to learn.”

Peter Westgarth is chief executive of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

If you are interested in running a DofE programme in your FE institution, visit to find your Regional Office and gain further information on how to get involved

Related Articles

Promises, Possibilities & Political Futures…

Tristan Arnison discusses the main UK parties’ education policies for the upcoming election. While specifics vary, common themes emerge around curriculum reform, skills training, and…