The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) is the world’s leading achievement award for young people. Its ethos is to enable every young person of every background to take part and succeed, regardless of any barriers.
Many of our Members will be familiar with the programme, in which young people aged between 14 and 24 progress through three levels to achieve a Bronze, Silver or Gold award. It requires persistence, commitment and has a lasting impact on the attitudes and outlook of all young people who participate, building confidence and self-esteem. Awards are delivered under special licence by over 400 partners, many of whom are Members of AIM, supporting nearly 11,000 DofE centres including youth clubs, voluntary organisations, schools, colleges, young offenders’ institutions and businesses.
As with any worthwhile award, there is no guarantee that all participants will achieve the required standard. As well as successes there will sometimes be disappointments and occasionally a disgruntled parent may look for someone to blame for their child’s unexpected set-back, whether it be their failure to achieve a DofE Award or an elusive A* grade. There may be an element of this in two recent claims for personal injury compensation arising from DofE activities.
The first claim involves a high-achieving schoolgirl, Emma, participating in a Gold practice expedition managed by her school with the help of qualified instructors hired to assist in specific elements. Emma developed a strain, which may have been an exacerbation of a previous shoulder injury, from stoically carrying her rucksack through the expedition, despite suffering discomfort. Offers were made by staff to take her rucksack, which she consistently turned down, wanting to continue to the end. By the end of the expedition, the discomfort had developed into a strained shoulder which required attention and follow-up physio treatment. Although she withdrew from the actual Gold award expedition, we are told that she was soon back playing netball in the school team. Her disappointed parents decided to sue both the school and the instructors, alleging that their negligence caused Emma’s injury.
The second claim involves a schoolgirl, Coral, in a group of seemingly less-than-enthusiastic or uncooperative participants in a Silver award expedition. In deteriorating misty and drizzly conditions, the specialist provider managing the expedition decided to call the groups off the hillside shortly after midday. This instruction was acknowledged by Coral, who had been appointed as the nominated point of contact in her group. However, shortly after the call, Coral went “off air”; her phone had been turned off and the group was no longer in contact. An hour later, communication with the group was (briefly) re-established, as they had met up with another group with a working phone and once again they were instructed to come down off the hill. It soon became clear that this instruction too was not complied with and they were off air again, so the leaders set out themselves to search for the group. Some 45 minutes later, the leaders received a phone call from the group who were now situated even further up the hill, cold and wet.
This time they were told to put up a tent for shelter in an area that is visible to rescuers and have some hot food to keep warm. However, they decided instead to settle inside a wooded area out of vision and telephone Mountain Rescue. A while later they were helicoptered out, colder and wetter. Coral’s parents blame the expedition provider and have lodged a claim for compensation alleging that a “non-freezing cold injury” to their daughter’s feet was caused by their negligence. Who actually is deemed to have been at fault for this non-serious injury will be decided in court.
In both cases the injuries were minor and the claims detract from the work that the schools and instructors put in to provide the real benefits to their charges that the DofE programme offers to young people and society as a whole. Both cases have cost the schools and providers a great deal, not least in terms of management time, and in Emma’s case the school has decided not to manage any more DofE programmes in the future.
In the first case, admirable though Emma’s determination to carry on was, had she accepted the help with her rucksack that she was offered, it is likely she would have continued and achieved her Gold Award. So for teachers and providers, it is important that individual participants and their attitudes are monitored closely. Where a school is managing the programme and hiring instructors for specific elements, it’s important that the division or delegation of responsibilities is made crystal clear and documented at the outset.
In the second case, a lack of commitment of some of the participants seems apparent. It’s important that the expedition programme manager, as well as constantly monitoring the participants’ commitment, ensures that the parents, too, actually “buy in” to the programme. They can contribute by supporting their kids jointly with the teachers at school, so that all parties are committed and fully aware of the responsibilities and rewards involved in the challenge.
The names of the participants have been changed to preserve anonymity. In both cases AIM is resisting the claim on behalf of the Member.