Founded by His Royal Highness in 1956, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) is widely recognised as the world’s leading youth achievement award. Now operating in more than 140 countries, the DofE has helped to transform the lives of millions of young people in the United Kingdom and across the globe
The DofE was designed to challenge young people between the ages of 14-24 to attain standards of achievement and endeavour in a wide variety of active interests – to serve their communities, experience adventure and to develop and learn outside the classroom.
Participation in the Award has grown every year since inception. By 2017, over six million people had taken part in DofE programmes in the UK, with over eight million worldwide.
The Duke of Edinburgh first considered the idea of a national programme to support young people's development in the Autumn of 1954, at the request of his inspiring former headmaster Kurt Hahn.
After the Second World War there was a growing concern about the development of boys, due to the gap between leaving school at 15 and entering National Service at 18. Kurt Hahn believed that young people have more courage, more strength and more compassion than they know. He felt that, if properly supported and challenged, these qualities could be developed for the good of young people and the communities in which they lived.
Inspired by the Moray Badge, for which Prince Philip had worked whilst a pupil at Gordonstoun School, The Duke of Edinburgh's Award was designed around four sections: Rescue and Public Service Training, The Expedition, Pursuits and Projects, and Fitness.
The Award was administered by John Hunt, who had led the first successful climb of Everest in 1953. Although initially only available to boys aged between 14 and 18, there was great demand for a similar programme for girls. In 1959, a girls' programme was launched and, at the same time, the DofE formally became a charitable trust. Since then, the DofE has been open to all young people from every walk of life, sharing the common aim of challenging themselves to achieve their Award.
The DofE and the UK
The DofE has continued to evolve over the decades that followed. In the 1970s, the DofE began to partner with businesses to help young people who were at work, in training or job hunting. Against a backdrop of rising youth unemployment, DofE open centres sprang up around the country giving young people the opportunity to participate in programmes outside of a school environment. Today, the Award forms a core part of many apprenticeships and training schemes in the UK, and employers are actively looking for DofE Award holders when recruiting, citing the important skills of teamwork, resilience and confidence the Award provides.
Throughout the UK, over 300,000 people are taking part in DofE programmes at any one time. Alumni of the Award include The Duchess of Cambridge and Olympians and Paralympians Hannah Cockroft, Peter and Richard Chambers, Dame Kelly Holmes and Maddie Hinch. Other award holders include explorer and author Tom Avery, broadcaster Jon Snow, adventurer and balloonist Sir David Hempleman-Adams, and Nobel Prize Winner Paul Nurse.
The DofE goes global
As soon as the DofE was launched there was widespread interest outside the UK in replicating the Award. It spread initially through the enthusiasm of international schools but soon youth organisations across the Commonwealth were running DofE programmes for their young people.
By 1971, the DofE was operating in 31 countries, increasing to 48 countries by 1989 as it spread beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth. The expansion led to the creation of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation in 1988, which has made programmes available to young people in more than 140 countries. Nelson Mandela was the founding Patron-in-Chief of the President’s Award for Youth Empowerment (The Award in South Africa).
The spread of the DofE across the globe is testament to its universal appeal and the vision of its founder. However, even His Royal Highness admitted that it took him by surprise. When the first trial of the Award was launched in 1956, no one had any idea quite what would happen. In the event it was an instant success and the Award has been growing and expanding worldwide ever since.
DofE Programmes and the Gold Award
The DofE and its mission to encourage personal discovery, self-reliance and responsibility in an environment of social interaction and team work has remained unchanged through the course of over 60 years.
The programmes take between one and four years to complete, allowing participants to progress through levels to achieve Bronze, Silver or Gold DofE Awards. Participants can select and set objectives in each of the following areas:
• Volunteering - service to others or the community over a period of 12 months
• Physical – achieving a certain standard of health and fitness over 12 or 6 months
• Skills – developing practical skills and nurturing personal interests and talents (12 or 6 months depending on timescale for physical)
• Expeditions – completion of an outdoor challenge over the course of 4 days/3 nights
• Residential - at Gold Level, participants must undertake an additional section which involves shared activity in a residential setting away from home for 5 days/4 nights
The Duke of Edinburgh remained committed to the DofE from its inception and continued to be involved, particularly in recognising the achievements of DofE participants and the adult volunteers who supported them. His Royal Highness devoted much time to personally presenting Gold Awards at ceremonies attended by up to 300 young people at a time. In total, The Duke of Edinburgh attended over 500 ceremonies since the DofE was founded in 1945.
The DofE Charity has been fortunate to benefit from the support of many people who have been involved in presenting Gold Awards over the years. Guest Presenters at Gold Award Presentation join a "'DofE Gold Award Hall of Fame" which includes Dame Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Walliams, Vivienne Westwood, Jonathan Ross, Darcey Bussell and Anna Friel.
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award celebrated their 60th Anniversary in 2016. The celebrations included the launch of the Diamond Challenge, an activity designed to encourage people of all ages to step out of their comfort zone and do something they have never done before. The Countess of Wessex undertook a Diamond Challenge to complete a 445 mile cycle ride from the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace over six days.
The Duke and other members of the Royal Family also marked the milestone at a series of events including a special Gold Award Presentation in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, alongside many visits around the UK to meet DofE participants, volunteers and supporters.
The future of the DofE
Today, more young people than ever before are doing their DofE, regardless of circumstance. This includes young offenders as part of their rehabilitation, mental health patients as part of their treatment and recovery, teenage mums as a route back to education and to create a future for themselves and their children.
The DofE is being delivered in 13,218 DofE centres, supported by 1,800 partner organisations and approximately 50,000 adult volunteers from all walks of life. The DofE is run in many centres, including schools, youth clubs, hospitals, housing associations, prisons and young offender institutions.
The DofE is supported by UK employers including British Gas, Asda, Google, RSM, Amey, ITV, Burberry, DFS and Heathrow who endorse the skills and attributes developed whilst doing a DofE programme such as resilience, commitment, self-motivation and team working.
The Earl of Wessex plays an active role in the DofE, both as Chairman of the Trustees of The Duke of Edinburgh International Award, and Trustee of DofE UK. The Earl also hosts receptions at St James's Palace throughout the year to celebrate young people who have achieved the Gold Standard in the Award.