The International Award – Accept The Challenge

The International Award is a well-established and much valued part of school life around the world. Thousands of students have been a part of the programme and it continues to be a highlight of their school years for thousands more.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was established in the UK in 1956 by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as a response to growing social concern about how to engage young boys and men between 15 and 18, the ages at which they could leave school and had to enter National Service, respectively. At first, the programme was only available for boys but it did not take long before a scheme for girls was launched in 1958.

Further evolution followed until the current format was established in 1980. Although the Programme has always been arranged around four sections these have changed over the years. In 1956, the four sections were: Rescue & Public Service Training; the Expedition; Pursuits & Projects; and Fitness. In 1980 these became, and remain: Service; Adventurous Journey; Skills; and Physical Recreation. Furthermore, in 1980 it became possible for young people up to the age of 25 could take part in the programme

The value of the Award quickly became apparent to schools and organisations around the world and the Programme was soon to be found in a wide range of international schools and youth organisations throughout the British Commonwealth and beyond.

In 1971 the Award was operating in 31 countries and by 1989 this number had increased to 48, being delivered in countries beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth for the first time. This rapid expansion saw the formation of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association (IAA) in 1988, while the title of the Programme across the globe became The International Award for Young People.

Currently, over 120 countries operate the Award and over 6 million young people worldwide have taken up the Award Challenge. The Programme is now expanding to include groups of people who have not previously had opportunities to develop themselves. Recent Award projects around the world have focused on involving young offenders, those with disabilities, street kids and aboriginal communities. The impact of the Award on many of these young people is extraordinary: it transforms their lives.

The award is tough – deliberately so – but it is about young people challenging themselves as individuals, not about having to reach specific standards set by others. However, the Award does challenge them to re-examine their own beliefs about what they can achieve. Award holders are also highly valued by both educational establishments and employers because of their self-confidence, ability to work as part of a team and their leadership skills.

The programme is based around three levels, each successive one requiring more commitment:

Candidates are required to complete activities in the four different areas which have been constant in the Award since 1980:

Service – the Programme here requires candidates to undertake work that shows a commitment to wider society, such as community service projects, conservation work, voluntary service in hospitals or homes, or can include specialised training in areas like lifesaving and first aid.

Adventurous Journey – thispart of the Award is about adventure and discovery. Participants can hike, ride or cycle, and on the way develop an understanding of the environment, and the importance of working as part of a team with a common purpose. They learn the significance of training, preparation, self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

Skills – in this section of the Award, candidates have the opportunity to develop their personal interests and learn practical skills. They are not required to reach any set standard – rather they set their own goals against which they can measure their progress.

Physical Activity – all participants are required to undertake organised and regular physical activity, showing perseverance and improving fitness. They will record their own progress, and can participate in individual or team sports of their own choice.

As all of the above demonstrates, the International Award is the ideal project for pupils at international schools to become involved in. It promotes civic values, recognises and rewards physical courage and achievement, and teaches pupils that self-improvement is the most valuable critical skill that they will ever develop. If your school doesn’t already offer the Award and you would like to find out more, go to