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Increase in popularity of activity programmes

Date Posted: Friday 01 October 2021

Adventurous activity programmes are more popular post-pandemic than ever before at Ashford School.

The opportunity to be active and explore the great outdoors has proved irresistible to a larger than ever number of Ashford School pupils, who have signed up to the school’s established Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) scheme and Combined Cadet Force (CCF) in their droves since the start of the global pandemic.

Over the past year, more than 260 pupils have completed DofE expeditions, and many of these pupils have joined the school’s CCF unit, and programmes have continued to run despite restrictions.

‘The effect of the pandemic on mental health is only just becoming evident,’ said Ashford School Headmaster Michael Hall. ‘Ashford School’s staff and volunteers were determined to keep as many of our activities going as possible and it is clear that our dedication and perseverance has paid off, importantly by giving pupils the opportunity to bond with friends, get outdoors and ultimately push themselves out of their comfort zones.’

No fewer than eight DofE expeditions were run at Ashford School from October 2020 to August 2021, involving 264 pupils (215 day pupils plus 49 international boarders). 56 participants took advantage of temporary changes to the DofE’s qualifying guidelines, which allowed them to complete the Bronze Award at home, however 44 Silver Award participants packed their bags and headed to Wales, where they spent three days walking the hills of Snowdonia and battling midges at the campsites.

Despite that, ‘it was enormous fun,’ according to Silver Award participant, 16-year-old Ashford School pupil Olly.

‘I felt such a sense of achievement at the end, to have planned our route as a team and navigated our way through unfamiliar countryside,’ said Olly. ‘The camping was brilliant. We cooked on our trangias and swam in a lake.’

The school’s 12 Gold Award participants rolled both their practice and qualifying expeditions into one on their trip to the Lake District in August. They cycled more than 1500 miles collectively over four days and then found the energy to climb England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike.

‘DofE Award participation has been immense this year, with 65% of eligible pupils in Years 9 to 13 taking part in an expedition, and nearly 20% of those boarders, which is the highest number ever by some margin,’ said Simon Burke, Ashford School’s DofE and CCF Coordinator.

‘The participants were assisted by 17 selfless volunteers, including Mr Peter Dalton, who gave up 27 days to attend our expeditions and deliver 36 activity lessons throughout the academic year. Without this dedication it would be impossible to offer these life-changing opportunities to Ashford School pupils.’

Ashford School’s CCF – a joint section run in conjunction with Wye School – has also experienced a recent surge in interest from pupils in Years 8 to 13 and now numbers 77 members.

CCF participation offers numerous benefits for young people, as a recent four-year study by the University of Northampton entitled ‘What is the social impact and return on investment resulting from expenditure on the Cadet Forces in the UK?’ concluded. Most notably, through a range of outdoor and adventurous activities and exercises, cadets develop communication and leadership skills, confidence and personal resilience, and learn to work effectively with others, found the report.

‘It was pleasing to read that as well as these attributes, cadets also experience improved mental and physical well-being and form strong community links,’ said Simon Burke. ‘Certainly, Ashford School cadets take part wholeheartedly in CCF activities and the skills and attributes they develop as a result are invaluable to them as they make the most of their education and prepare for success in adult life.’