Dear members of the Earlscliffe community,
As I write, some of our students are navigating their way around the Kent countryside on the expedition part of their Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award. I hope you have heard about the award scheme. It is an internationally recognised project, started by the late Duke of Edinburgh, founded in the United Kingdom in 1956, that has since expanded to 144 nations. The awards recognise young adults for completing a series of self-improvement exercises modelled on Kurt Hahn‘s solutions to his “Six Declines of Modern Youth“. It is available at bronze, silver and gold levels, with the challenges and expectations rising as the grades go higher. Participants are expected to undertake: volunteering, to serve their community; a physical skill, to improve their fitness; a skill, to develop a personal interest; and perhaps most widely known, an expedition. At gold level, a residential stay is expected too. The sight of groups of young people in the hills, with a backpack each and a map and compass, is a familiar and heart-warming one that I have seen in the UK, Dubai and New Zealand.
I have been part of a number of expeditions, manning checkpoints, helping with training and preparation, remotely supervising as the students navigate, often accurately but not always, sometimes for many miles, and sometimes for many miles further than they intended. What I admire about those who do get stuck into the award is their willingness to challenge themselves, to push out of their comfort zone, to make mistakes and recover, to soldier on when their mind says that it is time to sit down and give up. For some participants it can be a life-changing experience that brings them to a new appreciation of themselves and what they can do. It is often the first step to a completely new way of thinking about life. It can teach them not to fear challenge, but to embrace it.
As you may know, Earlscliffe does not have a school motto. We have a whole-school aim which changes every year. This year it is:
I do not fear the challenge; I embrace it
I know that every student here has embraced a challenge by moving to a new country, starting a new learning pathway, making new friends and moving towards an exciting future of learning, the world of work, and independence.
If the challenge is a night of rain such as fell last night, packing a wet tent, feeding yourself from a small stove, picking up your pack and navigating over miles of beautiful by challenging North Downs then so be it. I am so glad that some have embraced that challenge. But sometimes the challenge is just putting more effort into an essay, or asking for help, or trying food that is new to you, or talking to someone from a country that is very alien to you. Whatever it may be, I hope all of our students will embrace a new challenge every time they get the chance, and in a place like Earlscliffe, there is a chance to embrace a challenge every day.