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Headmaster's Blog - Enjoying The Great Outdoors

A couple of weeks ago, on Bank Holiday Monday, I had the pleasure of joining our Third Form students on their Duke of Edinburgh Award Bronze practice expedition in Wardington. Sunshine and DofE expeditions rarely go hand in hand and so we could not believe our luck to have such glorious conditions. Yet don’t mistake me by thinking the trip was a holiday: our students were challenged throughout a weekend which fully tested their resilience, grit and determination. However, everyone showed true character and they should feel incredibly proud they got through the experience in such cheery humour.

DofE is very popular at Bloxham and, with over 160 students participating, we are one the largest providers in Oxfordshire. Personally, I have long been an admirer of the DofE scheme. It helps students to broaden their horizons, develop their leadership skills, learn to work with others, and prove to themselves they can succeed at a serious challenge.

The expedition component of DofE is, to my mind, one of its most important features, as it challenges participants in so many ways beyond just the obvious physical demands. It is just one opportunity we give our students to develop in this way. Indeed, I would say that outdoor education runs through the life-blood of Bloxham School. First introduced in our Lower School, outdoor education increases in challenge as students move through their years with us. Our First and Second Form pupils enjoy annual camps and the not-to-be-missed Alps Trip, when they get to test their nerve white-water rafting and canyoning, building life-lasting memories on the way down. Older children have the chance to go further afield – recently, to Morocco, where Third and Fourth Form students trekked through the Atlas Mountains, supported by donkeys and local guides, on an incredible trip which also included spending time volunteering on a renovation project at a local school. We hope that trying new activities in fun situations such as these will generate excitement for learning outdoors; which, in turn, place students in environments which will help them lay the foundations of resilience, communication and team-working upon which they will rely so often in the future.

As I meet colleagues from other schools, higher education and the world of work, I believe it is more apparent than ever that, alongside the best academic qualifications they can achieve, young people will need these skills by the bucket load if they are to succeed in building happy, fulfilling and worthwhile lives. They will need to have inner belief and confidence to stay the course. They will need to be well grounded in understanding what is important in life. And, as research increasingly confirms, they will benefit mentally, if they can learn to take pleasure in spending time outdoors. Even at its simplest, taking a break for a walk can relieve stress, aid relaxation and re-charge tired students (and teachers) experiencing the pressures of exams right now. We hope all these things can be encouraged and developed through a challenging outdoor education programme, giving both short-term and life-lasting benefits to our students.

Wherever you are this half term, I hope you find the time to enjoy the best of the natural outdoors. Good for mind, body and soul!