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Photo: The walking group

Oliver and Harry's journey to independence

Harry and Oliver (both 16) explain how taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award scheme has helped them gain independence and life skills.

What is the Duke of Edinburgh Award?

The DofE is a youth achievement award for 14–24 year olds. Awarded at Bronze (14 ), Silver (15 ) and Gold (16 ) levels, participants must dedicate a minimum of an hour a week for a specific period of time to each of three sections:

  • physical

  • skills

  • volunteering.

In addition they must take part in an expedition lasting at least two days and one night. Participants have until their 25th birthday to finish the award.

Pupils from the Royal School for the Deaf Derby are working towards a Bronze DofE Award. They have completed physical challenges including cycling and football and improved their skills in areas such as drama and British Sign Language (BSL) with one pupil even taking a GCSE in History in a year. They also went on a group expedition in the Peak District.

Oliver, who is moderately to profoundly deaf, attended an after-school club to improve his football for the physical challenge and has worked hard on his speech with a speech and language therapist for the skills section. Harry, who is severely deaf and has cerebral palsy, chose boccia (a sport a bit like bowls) at a club outside school for the physical section and is working towards BSL Level 2 for his skill. They told us a bit more about their experiences.

Q. Why did you want to do a DofE Award?

Oliver: We were offered the chance to take part through our school and I thought it would be fun.

Harry: I wanted to learn and do new things. I’d only been camping once before but it was very different doing it for the expedition.

Q. How did you find the expedition part of the award?

Oliver: I thought it would be easy but it was difficult! I was part of the walking group and it was very hilly. We walked around 12–14km over two days. There were five of us and we had to read maps and sometimes we weren’t sure, so we talked about it as a team and took it in turns. We set off from school, were dropped off and did our walking, then we went back to the campsite, set up our tent, made some hot chocolate and cooked our dinner.

Harry: I cycled; I like cycling and do lots of it with my parents. It was easier because it was quite flat but we had a bit of uphill on the first day that was quite hard. We cycled for five hours each day. We had to be careful because we were on the trail with lots of other people on bikes, so we had to be in a line and not move away too much or there could’ve been a crash. We had to be well-organised and work as a team. 

Q. What’s been the hardest part of the award?

Oliver: Definitely the expedition. It was hard because my rucksack was so heavy which made it much more tiring than normal walking.

Harry: When we were camping it wasn’t easy for me to get into the tent because I use my walking frame. I could ask the teachers if I needed help but I still had to get out of my tent to get them.

Q. What did you learn from it?

Oliver: I learned how to cook for myself. We also learned to work as a team and help each other out.

Harry: I also learned to cook. The whole experience made me feel a bit more confident.

"I learned I could do it and overcome difficulties."

Q. What are you most proud of?

Oliver: I’m proud I finished the expedition. I was struggling on the second day because of the heavy rucksack, but I learned I could do it and overcome difficulties.

Q. What are you planning to do for the volunteering part of the award?

Harry: We’ll be raising money for different charities, helping to organise different events. Then in September we’ll be involved in other charity work linked with school.

Q. What would you say to other deaf young people thinking of doing a DofE Award?

Oliver: I’d say definitely get involved – it’s a one-off chance.

Harry: Yes, get involved!

Q. What are your plans for the future?

Oliver: I’d like to do something related to sport or woodwork – I’m looking at college courses at the moment.

Harry: After I finish school I want to learn to drive.

Good luck Oliver and Harry!

DofE teacher Mrs Hassall, who supported the pupils on their expedition, said:

“As part of their preparation we do map skills and route planning, basic first aid, practise putting up tents and a bit of cooking in our enrichment time.

We also do a practice expedition so they know what to expect on the assessed one. We go with them and support them, but at a distance. They had to do all the map reading; if they get lost, we monitor them and only help if needed!

They had to really look around for landmarks to match what’s on the map as obviously they couldn’t hear things like the road traffic or the river to know they were there.

They all worked so hard and were so determined to finish. We’re so proud of them all. It’s helped with their confidence and given them life skills.”