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School’s Unique ‘Sat Nav’ Invention

A unique ‘sat nav’ system is helping pupils at Sutton Valence School near Maidstone, Kent reach new heights of achievement in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.

This year, 180 pupils are testing themselves to the limit with outdoor expeditions and new physical and sporting challenges, as well as learning new skills.

More than 100 of them are on track to complete the scheme by the end of the year, earning 16 Gold awards, 25 Silvers and 60 Bronzes, an outstanding record for the school.

All participants have to take part in outdoor expeditions, with those aiming for their Gold award spending four nights and five days trekking and camping in the Lake District.

But thanks to the technically creative talent of former pupil Balazs Janko and the school’s IT department, even if they get lost, staff always know where the group are!

The reason? Balazs and the teachers at his old school have adapted GPS technology – the sort used by car satellite navigation systems – so that supervising staff always know where pupils on Award expeditions are at any one time.

Each expedition group is issued with a miniature GPS tracker which attaches to a rucksack. Every 20 minutes the system sends a message to the mobile phone and laptop of the supervising teacher, pinpointing the map grid reference of the expedition party.

Explains Glen Millbery, Sutton Valence School’s Director of IT and Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme manager: “We have a responsibility to know exactly where our pupils are at any one moment, and it’s easy to get lost in the vastness of the Lake District.

“For years, teachers supervising expeditions had to follow pupils in their cars, popping up every hour or so to check where they were.

“The GPS system we use means we no longer have to do that, unless they are at serious risk of going off track and getting lost. For the pupils, this means much greater freedom and independence, and a genuine sense of ‘remoteness’. For us, it means we have the extra security of knowing precisely where they are.”

Mr Millbery believes the system could have wider applications, not least for other schools running the Awards scheme. He added: “It makes a valuable contribution to the whole ethos of the scheme, which is to encourage pupils’ perseverance and commitment, even when they have to spend cold, wet nights under canvas and then motivate themselves to get up in the morning and finish the expedition.

“It tests them as individuals, and gives them lifelong memories – even if that does mean remembering the day they were flooded out of their tent or completed the trek despite the blisters.”

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