Prince Philip developed the Duke of Edinburgh Award with his former headteacher at Gordonstoun School.
Since Prince Philip sadly passed away in April, staff and students at his former school, Gordonstoun, have been celebrating his life-long commitment to the school. They’ve even released copies of his school reports and photos in advance of his 100th birthday, which would have been in June. Many of Gordonstoun’s staff and students were familiar with Prince Philip, who kept in touch with Gordonstoun throughout his life, especially as he developed and launched the infamous Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award, inspired by his time at the prestigious boarding school.
Prince Philip’s Gordonstoun School Days
Prince Philip joined Gordonstoun in 1934, when the school first opened under the leadership of German educator Dr Kurt Hahn. At the time, Prince Philip was just 13. He enjoyed Gordonstoun’s focus on outdoor activities, especially the school’s sailing expeditions, and even sailed to Norway – a challenge that students still take on today.
During his school days at Gordonstoun, Prince Philip became captain of both the cricket and hockey teams. He was also a ‘Watcher’, the precursor to the national Coastguard Service. In his final year, he became the school’s ‘Guardian’ (head boy) and completed the Moray Badge. Hahn had created this award to encourage children to develop their physical skills, complete challenging expeditions, and partake in community activities.
Developing the Duke of Edinburgh Award
Around two decades later, Prince Philip worked with Hahn to develop the Moray Badge into the national DofE Award. More than 1.3 million young people around the world have taken part in the Award since its launch in 1956, including those who have disabilities. The DofE Award may have started its life at Gordonstoun, but young people in over 140 countries now make the most of the invaluable experiences the Award has to offer.
The DofE Award isn’t a competition. Instead, it encourages people aged 14–24 to challenge themselves and push their personal boundaries. Those pursuing the Award challenge themselves to take on camping and rural treks, improve their chosen physical and skills-based practices, and complete charity work. What’s more, employers around the world value the DofE Award, which acts as proof that young people have developed practical, problem-solving, and teamwork skills.
Prince Philip’s Dedication to Gordonstoun
Prince Philip championed the DofE Award throughout his life. Not only was he involved in the Award’s day-to-day operations, but he also attended many Gold Award Presentations (GAPs), at which he gave numerous young people their Gold Award certificates.
‘If you can get young people to succeed in any area of activity, that sensation of success will spread over into a lot of others,’ he once told the BBC.
Alongside his DofE Award efforts, Prince Philip also continuously supported Gordonstoun throughout his life. Having endured a difficult childhood, he made many of his happier memories at Gordonstoun, which arguably became the closest he had to a home. During Prince Philip’s last official visit to the school, which was to celebrate Gordonstoun’s 80th anniversary in 2014, he insisted on queueing with the students for lunch, instead of having his meal brought to him.
Last year, students also enjoyed producing apple juice and honey for the Duke of Edinburgh, which they sent to the Royal Family’s holiday residence in Balmoral. Prince Philip soon wrote to thank them, telling them he had immediately added their creations to the breakfast table.
‘More than anything, he [Prince Philip] understood and was hugely supportive of Gordonstoun’s educational ethos, of not only fulfilling academic potential but also of developing life skills through experiences outside the classroom, including sailing and community service,’ says Gordonstoun’s Principal Lisa Kerr. ‘We are immensely grateful for his support over the years and his presence and support in the school’s life will be sorely missed.’
The Prince Philip Gordonstoun Foundation
DofE Award aside, Prince Philip also gave his name to the Prince Philip Gordonstoun Foundation, an endowment fund that allows children from underprivileged backgrounds to attend the school. Over 30 percent of Gordonstoun’s students receive bursary funds and the foundation is key to Gordonstoun’s inclusive culture, which welcomes children from all backgrounds.
Remembering Prince Philip
On the day of Prince Philip’s funeral, students and staff sailed the school’s yacht, ‘The Ocean Spirit’ out to sea from Hopeman Harbour, where Prince Philip learnt to sail. A lone piper played ‘Flowers of the Forest’ as students laid a memorial wreath in the ocean to honour his life. Students also completed a morning run to the Moray coast (and back) in memory of the morning runs that Prince Philip often did at school.
Though many associate Prince Philip with Gordonstoun, he wasn’t the only Royal to attend the school. Three of his children, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward also attended. And, later, two of his grandchildren, Zara and Peter Phillips, attended Gordonstoun, too. Though Princess Anne, Prince Philip’s daughter, couldn’t attend Gordonstoun as the school only admitted boys at the time, she is now the school’s warden.
A Focus on Outdoor Learning
As part of the Round Square Conference of Schools, Gordonstoun is one of several schools around the world that bases its teaching on Hahn’s educational models – the same models that inspired the DofE Award. Hahn believed outdoor adventure should play a key role in education. And Prince Philip himself described Gordonstoun’s access to the Moray Firth and Cairngorms as having ‘additional classrooms’ that ‘open the eyes of young people to the wider world beyond school and home’.
Round Square schools build their curriculums around international understanding, environmental stewardship, democracy, adventure, leadership, and service. Students who attend these schools can also partake in global and regional conferences, international exchanges, and worldwide volunteering initiatives.
Gordonstoun is also the founding school behind the Outward Bound Trust (formerly the Outward Bound Movement), an educational charity that uses the outdoors to help over one million young people develop key skills through adventurous outdoor learning courses.
In 2016, Dr Simon Beames (from the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education) conducted a study into the lasting influences of out-of-classroom learning at Gordonstoun. Beames concluded that 94 percent of respondents felt out-of-classroom learning had a huge positive effect on their personal growth. He also concluded that 74 percent felt these learning experiences helped them progress their career paths.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, making the most of outdoor spaces has become even more important. Gordonstoun has adjusted more lessons so they can take place outside as part of its commitment to the Boarding Schools’ Association ‘Covid Safe’ Charter. Gordonstoun has also taken additional measures to meet all government guidelines and BSA regulations.
About Gordonstoun School
Students travel from around the world to study at Gordonstoun, a widely acclaimed, co-educational school that houses over 500 children from over 40 countries. The school is easy to access from Aberdeen and Inverness airports, making it an ideal spot for international students, despite its rural surroundings. The seventeenth-century campus sits in a 200-acre wooded estate in Moray, Scotland’s ‘Sunshine Coast’.
Many of Gordonstoun’s senior students live in the school’s seven boarding houses, where house masters and mistresses ensure all students receive the support and guidance they need. Another 100 students attend the school during the day only, though these students also get to make the most of Gordonstoun’s inclusive house system.
Gordonstoun’s students learn in small teaching groups and enjoy the school’s mixture of historic architecture and contemporary facilities, including a state-of-the-art sports centre and performing arts department.
Read more about Gordonstoun School.