It is not every day that you are invited to the Palace. I was very privileged to join 3 former Bennett students at a Buckingham Palace garden party in celebration of the diamond anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme on Monday 16th May. As you might expect, the event was a tremendous celebration of the achievements of young people. It was also an affirming opportunity for those who lead this school’s commitment to the scheme, in particular our Duke of Edinburgh Award coordinator, Mr Nic Ramsden, who was also there to see our three students receive their Gold Awards.
As part of the event we were addressed by the broadcaster Siân Williams, who entertained us with a number of anecdotes drawn from her career, as well as saying some stirring words about the achievements of the young people present on the day. One thing she talked about in particular resonated very strongly for me. Perhaps rather predictably, she started by identifying what has become something of a buzzword in educational circles about the need to develop resilience in young people. Clearly her next words were going to be about how the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme had contributed to the development of this powerful character trait in the young adults in front of us. I was expecting that this theme would be developed by reference to the challenges of expeditions, tramping through rain and mud in rough country, or some such. This was not to be.
Before I go further, I should perhaps explain why I am so interested in the development of what we might label ‘character’ in young people. It is, for me at least, a matter of social justice. This stems from a reading of the Canadian educationalist Paul Tough, who in his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, identifies the way in which an education which develops conscientiousness, resilience and the ability to delay gratification can enable children to transcend the limiting factors that may arise from their backgrounds.
Let’s go back to Siân Williams speaking on a sunny afternoon on the lawn at Buckingham Palace. Instead of observations about mud, rucksacks and sore feet, our speaker observed that the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme’s power in developing resilience lay in the way it encouraged young people to think and act in community, rather than as individuals. As a recent graduate psychologist, Siân observed that our Gold Award winners had been turned from introspection and self-absorption to service, volunteering and collective achievement.
For me this is a powerful insight. At Bennett we talk about the purposes of education being for the common good. As a Christian school in the week of Pentecost we are coming together in our worship this week, recognising that the tongues of fire came to rest upon those first Christians when they worshipped with one another, not privately in a room. The text from Acts of the Apostles makes the point powerfully by listing at length the range of different languages that the disciples began to speak. The message is clear, we belong to an outward facing Church. In this context then, what better week to celebrate the achievements of our Gold Award winners, as well as the progress being made by our 168 year 10 students enrolled on the Bronze Award?