New research conducted in October 2020 amongst a sample of 2,728 DofE participants of school/college age by The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE), has today revealed the transformative impact that extracurricular learning, such as volunteering, developing a skill or getting better at a sport, can have on young people’s wellbeing – and how COVID-19 is putting the future of these activities at risk.
The charity is warning that this threat, exacerbated by the latest lockdown measures, could accelerate the mental health crisis facing young people across the UK. More than half (54%) of young people the DofE surveyed worry their levels of stress, anxiety or mental health issues could increase if they are no longer able to continue with the activities and experiences helping them cope with the pandemic.
During the pandemic, extracurricular learning has been a lifeline for many young people, helping to maintain and boost resilience and mental health. 43% of DofE participants surveyed said they felt volunteering, doing exercise or learning a new skill has given them a positive focus during COVID-19, while nearly two thirds (64%) are more appreciative of non-academic activities as a result of the pandemic.
Yet as problems with sleep, depression and self-harm in children rise and youth unemployment is set to triple, access to these life-changing activities is under threat. Even when lockdowns are not in place, many youth clubs and classes remain closed and young people themselves are feeling pressure to give up activities. The DofE’s survey uncovered that 71% of participants that responded have had to cut back on extracurricular activities due to academic pressures caused by COVID-19. Nearly a quarter (22.5%) worry they might have to sacrifice extracurricular activities because they are more concerned about their parents’ financial situation.
In response, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has launched its Resilience Fund to ensure thousands of young people facing disadvantage are able to participate in DofE, which has been shown to help increase wellbeing, confidence and resilience. Thanks to a very generous donation the Fund will provide 12,000 funded DofE places for young people facing disadvantage, and train thousands of DofE Leaders, Managers and volunteers to further strengthen the charity’s support for young people from under-privileged backgrounds.
While the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken steps to recognise the value of extracurricular learning, funding services and positive activities for young people before and throughout the pandemic, young people in England have faced years of brutal cuts that have eroded their infrastructure of support.
Today the DofE is calling on the UK Government to act urgently to prevent a wider mental health crisis, by ensuring the quality provision of extracurricular learning in England is prioritised, adequately funded and enabled, in line with safety guidelines, in Government COVID-19 guidance.
- Providing emergency funding for youth organisations so they can continue providing essential support and extracurricular learning, including releasing the £500m investment in youth services promised as part of the UK Government’s 2019 manifesto.
- Investing in developing a diverse, high quality and sustainable youth offer, particularly in areas of deprivation, to ensure all young people can access opportunities, activities and experiences that are essential to their development and wellbeing.
Harry, who is doing his Gold DofE in Wigton, Cumbria, shares why extracurricular learning is so important to him: “When lockdown started, I was scared to leave my house and struggled to find anything good in life. I have autism and a rare genetic condition which heightened my anxieties. For my DofE volunteering, I grew vegetables in my allotment to share with local people who were shielding. Doing this helped me feel less anxious, more confident, and speaking to other allotment holders from a distance has helped me learn to socialise safely. Being outdoors helps me relax and stay calm.”
Ruth Marvel, CEO of the DofE, said: “These threats to extracurricular learning could have devastating impacts on the mental health and future prospects of young people – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Non-academic education is just as important as academic learning, and the UK Government must prioritise it as such. To face the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, young people need and deserve the increased resilience, confidence and independence built through extracurricular learning.”
A new report, also published today by the DofE, produced with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), highlights the long-lasting impact DofE programmes have on young people’s wellbeing and mental health, as well as building valuable skills for their future and prospects of employment. It reports that 62% of participants say doing their DofE made them more confident in overcoming difficult situations, 61% feel they have become more independent, 67% say it helped them feel more responsible, and 70% said it made them feel proud of what they can achieve.
Throughout the pandemic, the DofE has been supporting tens of thousands of young people across the UK to continue their extracurricular learning through DofE With A Difference, providing physical, skills-based and volunteering opportunities that can be easily done from home.