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Risky Business - Spring 2016

Published in British Boarding from Absolutely Education

Mark Lascelles, Head Master of Dauntsey’s on the importance of adventure education

Time and again I hear universities and employers say that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between applicants who have the same top grades. No matter how many changes the government makes to the A-Level curriculum, academic results can only tell you so much because people are, of course, about more than grades on a piece of paper. Schools must therefore fully equip young adults with the necessary life skills to ensure they stand out from the crowd and set them up for life beyond the classroom.

Understanding risk and not shying away from it is an important life skill. Pupils can develop this through being exposed to it in the security of a school environment. Dauntsey’s has a strong emphasis on adventure; such is our commitment, I appointed a dedicated Head of Adventure, Sam Moore, to bring together our many activities. Sam embodies Dauntsey’s attitude to adventure education. He believes passionately that it plays a vital role in preparing children for life, never more so than in today’s ever changing world where they live in an increasingly risk-free environment.

Sam has developed a programme of adventure activities for pupils, split into two areas: High Adventure takes the form of longer-haul trips, activities and experiences that involve relatively small numbers of pupils participating at a high level, normally with a high staff to pupil ratio. Typically this type of adventure will require time and dedication from the pupils and they will have to achieve specific skills and competence at a given activity to allow them to access remote or challenging environments. Examples of High Adventure might be taking part in the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, racing our tall ship, Jolie Brise in the Tall Ships race or a joint expedition with Marlborough College to Kilimanjaro.

Accessible Adventure takes the form of programmes where large numbers of pupils have short experiences that serve as an introduction to adventure and to various activities. These serve both as education experiences in their own right and as a gateway to High Adventure for those that enjoy them and find them rewarding.

An example of Accessible Adventure is learning to kayak on the Kennet and Avon canal, camping in the school grounds, or a night hike on Salisbury Plain. The results are remarkable. Pupils who joined us as relatively quiet, cautious types, grow in confidence and are willing to take on new experiences. Those who you would not immediately view as “the outdoors type” can demonstrate great resilience and good humour in the face of adversity. I particularly enjoy seeing pupils learning to be as concerned for others as for themselves and – most importantly – to be able to admit and then correct their mistakes. Equally, the more confident ones learn to follow leadership and are then able to provide better leadership when needed.

Developing these traits can take courage. Exploration inevitably involves a few wrong turns, so we work to build the confidence needed to tackle things pupils may not believe they can do, safe in the knowledge that we are here to help find a way around an obstacle. As a result, pupils’ confidence and self-esteem rise dramatically as they discover what can be achieved, often under challenging conditions – and this pays great dividends back in the classroom in terms of academic progress.

In short, what you learn outside the classroom can have a profound effect on the development of your character and your entire future.