The Duke of Edinburgh’s award, and GCSE climbing

Bouldering at THe Castle

We are often asked by parents if Geckos can accommodate children who are participating in the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, or would like to take the climbing option of the GCSE in physical education. The answer to both questions is yes.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s award

We have helped numerous young people who are working towards the bronze and silver awards. The vast majority have elected to chose climbing as their physical activity, though we have, on occasion, allowed some of the long-standing members of our climbing club to work with us as volunteers.

The physical activity requires regular attendance while working towards some achievable goals. There’s more about the DofE’s physical activities here. Your instructor will be able to confirm your attendance and one of Geckos’ Managers will complete your online assessment. It’s all pretty straightforward.

For those who want to volunteer with us, it’s essential they are already an experienced member of the climbing club and are at least 14 years of age. Generally volunteers would be expected to assist a regular Geckos’ instructor, perhaps demonstrating simple climbing techniques to younger or less experienced children, or helping with belaying. Volunteers are supervised at all times.

GCSE climbing

For a number of years it has been possible to include climbing as a sport within the GCSE in Physical Education. While the Pearson Edexcel syllabus was initially aimed at candidates with outdoor experience, it has been updated and amended to take into account the popularity of indoor climbing. Over the years Geckos have successfully supervised many GCSE students at The Castle Climbing Centre in London.

Edexcel’s assessment criteria for rock climbing (see the syllabus, pp. 293-298)

The performance of skills and techniques in isolation/unopposed

Candidates will be assessed on any four of the skills listed below when performed in isolation/unopposed practice as appropriate to rock climbing indoors or outdoors.
• The ability to ascend a rock face making route assessment,
re-assessment and carry out safe climbs employing a range of climbing holds and moves
• Rope management (e.g. coiling, uncoiling, preparation and carrying)
• Select and use a single anchor to set up top rope
• Select and use multiple anchors
• Ability to belay with different devices/detailed knowledge of protecting a bouldering climber, this may include spotting but also, for example, positioning pads, landings, etc.
• Ability to demonstrate different climbing techniques
• Tie a clove hitch, overhand knot and, as appropriate, figure of 8 on the bight
• Set up and undertake an abseil, demonstrating the ability to lock off the abseil device during decent/descend from boulder problems safely
• Use rope systems to demonstrate a range of secure anchors (e.g. wires, camming devices and fixed equipment).

Application of skills, techniques and decision making under
pressure during a conditioned practice and
conditioned/formal/competitive situation

Candidates will be assessed on the quality of appropriate skills, techniques and decision-making processes to meet the challenges during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, including using the skills/techniques from isolation/unopposed situations, as well as:
• adhering to rules, health and safety guidelines, and considering appropriate risk management strategies.
Ability to climb different routes (either indoor or outdoor)
• Use a climbing wall or bouldering area
• Assess and use a variety of pre-placed anchors
• Belay another climber, hold a top-roped fall and perform a ‘lower’
• Demonstrate confident movement on and sequencing on rock/wall employing a variety of appropriate techniques reflecting body position, balance, foot and hand holds to make use of different rock/wall features
• Precise footwork on small holds
Candidates should be assessed on their control of the skills used and techniques executed, showing mastery of external factors (competitors and/or environment):
• Fluid movement utilising momentum.
Timing of skills and techniques means there is always fluency to the performance:
• Climbs completed on time.

11-2Demonstrates an ineffective level of technical accuracy, with little or no precision, control and fluency, when:
• fitting a harness and helmet with instructor support
• belaying with instructor support
• communicating ineffectively with partner
• ascending and descending correctly from route but with errors.
11-5Demonstrates ineffective skills, techniques and decision making, with little or no precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following:
Demonstrates a limited level of precision when executing skills and techniques, such as:
• missing key holds
Inadequate control, fluency and/or accuracy when under
pressure from external factors (competitors and/or
environment), including:
• kicking and scraping feet
• getting stretched out
Timing of skills and techniques means there is no fluency to the performance, including:
• getting stuck for periods on the climb.
23-4Demonstrates a basic level of technical accuracy, with little precision, control and fluency, when:
• belaying with peers supervised by instructor
• putting on harness and helmet with instructor prompts
• tying in with rethreaded figure of eight with support
• a basic level of climbing communication used
• demonstrating basic climbing techniques when ascending and descending with errors
26-10Demonstrates basic skills, techniques and decision making, with little precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following.
Demonstrates basic level of precision when executing skills and techniques:
• using the correct hold inefficiently (wrong part of foot or wrong hand technique)
Basic control and accuracy is evident when under pressure from external factors (competitors and/or environment):
• jerky actions and lunging due to out of balance movement
Timing of skills and techniques means there is basic fluency to the performance:
• moves up the wall without major stops
35-6Demonstrates a competent level of technical accuracy, with some precision, control and fluency, when:
• belaying competently with backup
• fitting harness and helmet independently
• tying in independently
• safety checks self and partner consistently
• demonstrating climbing styles (ascending and descending) with competent techniques
311-15Demonstrates a competent level of skills, techniques and decision making, with some precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following.
Demonstrates a good level of precision when executing appropriate skills and techniques:
• using holds correctly (hand and foot positions)
Control of the skills and techniques executed, showing competent control and accuracy when under pressure from external factors (competitors and/or environment):
• able to rest in balance with relaxed stance
Timing of skills and techniques means there is competent fluency to the performance:
• moves up the wall with a competent, steady pace
47-8Demonstrates a good level of technical accuracy, with precision, control and fluency, when:
• belaying independently and holding a bottom rope fall consistently
• handling climbing equipment fluidly,
e.g. carabiners and belay devices
• demonstrating climbing techniques (ascending and descending) with good technique
416-20Demonstrates a good level of skills, techniques and decision making, with good precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following.
Demonstrates a good level of precision when executing appropriate skills and techniques:
• accurate footwork
Consistently in control of the skills and techniques executed, showing good control and accuracy when under pressure
from external factors (competitors and/or environment):
• good weight transfer
Timing of skills and techniques means there is very good fluency to the performance:
• climbing appears fluid with good body positioning for balance
59-10Demonstrates a very good level of technical accuracy, with accurate precision, control and fluency, when:
• able to belay with two further devices
• able to demonstrate climbing techniques
(ascending and descending) faultlessly and fluidly
• tie clove hitch, overhand knot and figure of 8 on the bight and understand their uses
521-25Demonstrates a very good level of skills, techniques and decision making, with very good precision, control and fluency, during a conditioned/formal/competitive situation, to include the following.
Demonstrates a very good level of precision when executing appropriate skills and techniques:
• precise footwork on small holds
Always in control of the skills and techniques executed, showing very good mastery of external factors (competitors and/or environment):
• fluid movement utilising momentum.
Timing of skills and techniques means there is always very good fluency to the performance:
• climbs completed fluidly

Geckos alumni: Lux

My name is Lux Losey, I’m from London and have been a climber for 10 years. I am an assistant coach at The Castle Climbing Centre and I am on my way to becoming a qualified Climbing Wall Instructor.

I first started climbing when I was 9 years old and my first ever climbing session was with Geckos. I originally went because my mum basically said ‘Stop being lazy and go out and do something!’ So I chose climbing and I was instantly hooked.

Geckos is a place to learn how to climb, but it is also a place to make friends and learn valuable skills. I enjoyed the easy going atmosphere of Geckos, which was somewhere to focus and get better at climbing, but also a place to have fun. Geckos introduced me to a whole new group of people who supported and helped me achieve my goals. Climbing teaches discipline, patience and determination- all things that can be transferred into everyday life. Without climbing I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Lux (left) at the final of the 2019 Paraclimbing World Championship. Photo by Sytse van Slooten

The thing I love about climbing is that it is so freeing and Geckos not only teaches how to climb, but it embodies it as well. I am visually impaired meaning I have reduced vision. Some may view this as a disadvantage but I don’t. Geckos helped me realise that even though I can see as well as others it is no reason to stop following your dreams and for me that was to become the best climber I could be.

Geckos has led me to climb with The Castle’s Academy and then onto the competition squad. This fuelled an obsession with climbing, which has driven me to both work in the industry and to compete in international competitions with the GB para-climbing team.

For anyone who wants to climb or who has already started, my advice would be ‘keep going’. Sometimes it will be tough and you’ll have to learn to overcome adversity, but in the end the rewards from climbing will be more than you could have imagined. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my dreams without having been to Geckos, it was my starting point and thanks to the coaches and other kids in Geckos I have reached many of my goals.

Without the help of the coaches from Geckos I would’ve have never pushed myself and achieved what I have, they helped me realise that even though life dealt me a bad hand with my eyes, that shouldn’t stop me, it should motivate me and make me the best version of myself.

Lead-climbing and The Castle’s under 18 assessment

In order to climb independently at The Castle Climbing Centre in north London, under 18s are required to take an in-house assessment. For obvious reasons, the test is pretty stringent, to make sure that the respective under 18 is competent and understands fully the issues surrounding safe bouldering and top-roping. For 14 and 15 year olds, there is an supplementary lead-climbing component to the assessment.

In the past, Geckos instructors taught lead-climbing within the regular kids’ club sessions, but over the last 18 months the necessities of social-distancing have limited the opportunities to do so. We have just started running a dedicated lead-climbing course on Sunday afternoons for 4 older kids and hope to offer this to more kids when we can. However, spaces are limited.

Lead-climbing upstairs at The Castle

Lead-climbing courses

Geckos run lead-climbing courses for under 18s during school holidays. Please contact us is this is something your are interested in.
N.B. The child should be aged 13 or above and experienced in top-roped climbing. The level of their climbing is not the main concern, but they should be confident on a route graded 4+ or 5.

The Castle’s assessment

Anyone taking the over 14 assessment should be able to boulder confidently and understand the potential risks, both for themselves and for bystanders. They would need to know how to put on a sit harness, tie in with an appropriate knot and belay safely. However, the major component of the test involves lead-climbing and lead-belaying. A brief summary of what is involved follows, below. Clearly this only provides an overview and is in no way to be seen as an alternative to being properly taught and building up sufficient experience. It is best seen as a resource to return to in order to reinforce what’s been covered on one of our lead-climbing courses.

The climber

The climbing aspect requires an understanding of when and how to clip the lead rope into the quickdraws correctly and the potential pitfalls to avoid. The following video introduces the basics:

The belayer

Lead belaying is much more complicated and difficult than belaying a top-roped climber and requires a great deal of practice to master. Here’s another quick introduction:

The physics

It is important for all to understand that part and parcel of lead climbing is falling; knowing how to do it safely while climbing and how to catch the climber properly while belaying. Both require some understanding of basic physics. There’s a fairly dry explanation of the physics of falling and the forces involved for both the climber and the rope on this manufacturer’s website. However the issues are presented rather more engagingly on this video by a climbing dude. It covers everything well enough, even if the presenter seems to be under the impression that Sir Isaac Newton lived in ancient Greece.

The test!

Assuming that your under 18 climbing daughter or son has been taught to lead climb and belay properly and has built up sufficient experience to take the assessment, you can find full details , including times, prices and information on how to book on The Castle’s website. However, if you’re not sure (teenagers can perhaps sometimes over-estimate their abilities and level of experience), you might want to consider booking a personal tuition session to make sure they’re fully ready. If that’s the case, then let us know. We’d be happy to arrange it.

Getting back to normal

Bouldering on the first floor

With the government planning to lift many of the Covid restrictions on the 19th July, Geckos will be able to restructure some of our activities, particularly at weekends. What is likely to remain in place is the centre’s stipulation that anyone entering The Castle Climbing Centre must wear a mask when not actually climbing.

It’s still difficult to predict exactly what the position will be in September, but this is the structure of sessions that we are likely to be running. Prices have still to be calculated, but they should be very similar to pre-pandemic levels.

Kids’ club
We will be running the kids club from 5-7pm weekdays and 10-12 and 12.30-2.30pm at weekends. Groups will once again comprise 6 children and sessions will last 2, rather than 1 hour. This would allow time for a short break, half way through the session.

Climbing parties
Will also return to groups of 6, with parties lasting 1.5 hours, rather than 1 hour. This would allow time for up to 30 minutes bouldering, plus 1 hour of top-roping on the 8m walls. Parties will be timetabled to run on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, or in the daytime during school holidays.

Taster & family taster sessions
To remain essentially the same: up to 4 at a time for 1 or 1.5 hours.

Personal tuition
Up to 3 people at a time for 1, 1.5 or 2 hours.

Geckos alumni: Grace

Grace Spence Green

Grace started climbing with Geckos as a nine year old. By no means the tallest of her cohort, she rose to the top – literally and figuratively – due to a combination of determination and dauntless enthusiasm. She was always hugely popular with her fellow Geckos and the instructing staff, who were bowled over by her cheerful, positive attitude to both climbing and life in general.

As Grace grew older she generously donated much of her free time coaching youngsters at The Castle. Few of those who encountered her there were surprised when, in 2012, she became a national junior climbing champion.

However, on 17 October 2018, Grace was involved in a catastrophic (non-climbing related) accident. What happened and how she has responded to the life-changing consequences almost beggars belief. In April 2021 Grace told her story to Jane Garvey, as part of a series for Radio 4 called, ‘Life Changing‘. Take a half hour out of your life to listen. Her positivity and her generosity of spirit are astonishing and truly inspirational.

Listen to the interview:

Summer climbing!

The majestic view from Stanage Edgee

With overseas travel likely to be challenging and domestic holidays booked up or over-priced, this might be the year to join one of our outdoor climbing trips.

This summer, weather and Coronavirus permitting, we hope to run a number of trips to different climbing locations in England. Cost is in the region of £99 per head, inclusive of all necessary equipment.


Full details of dates and locations will be posted on our website, but are likely to include:

The Southern Sandstone in Kent
All climbing is top-roped, so suitable for beginners and upwards. Less than 90 minutes from central London, the crags of Harrison’s Rocks and Bowls are ideal for day trips.

Harrison's Rocks
Harrison’s Rocks

The Peak District in Derbyshire
Mainly top-roped climbing, though we can offer traditional lead-climbing trips for older kids and advanced climbers. Over the years we have climbed at a number of crags in the Peak, including Stanage Edge, Burbage, Froggatt, Bamford, Yarncliffe Quarry and Birchen Edge. Normally our trips run for two days during the week to avoid the crowds. Accommodation is either the North Lees campsite, or a local B&B.

Stanage Edge
Stanage Edge

Portland and Swanage in Dorset
We hope to run both top-roping and sports-climbing trips to these popular seaside climbing areas. Accommodation is either in campsites such as Tom’s Field, or in local B&Bs.

Dancing Ledge, Swanage
Please email us for more details.

Pixie’s poem

We love this. This was written by one young member of our climbing club during the frustratingly long months of lockdown. What a lovely and touching way for them to express their enthusiasm for going climbing each week. It’s reassuring to know that that the kids enjoy the session as much as the instructors do!

Roll on the 12 April!

The Lockdown Newsletter

During the three lockdowns of 2020-21, our diligent kids’ club manager, Larner, produced a series of informative newsletters, helping keep parents and kids up to date and in touch. The latest copy, produced for the spring, has just been produced. Hopefully, if the vaccination rollout and the government’s roadmap both go to plan, we’ll be returning to some kind of normal soon and the latest issue will also be the last.

We shall see!

For those of you who missed out on any of the issues, here they all are:

Once more unto the lockdown…


I think we all saw it coming, even before the details began to leak out late on Friday night. Influential voices from the worlds of science and politics had been clamouring for a temporary lockdown, a ‘circuit beak’, since well before the half-term holidays.

Image from The Guardian

So, here we are again. Let’s hope that it’s not too little too late.

I can confirm that both The Castle Climbing Centre itself and therefore Geckos Climbing Ltd will be closed from Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December 2020. If you have a session booked with Geckos between those dates we will shortly be in contact with you to rearrange it after the reopening or, if you prefer, issue a full refund.

The Prime Minister insisted that the lockdown will end on 2 December, though Michael Gove has already suggested it may need to go on longer. We shall see. In the meantime, I’d like to thank everyone for their continued support. We all very much look forward to resuming all our kids’ climbing activities just as soon as we can.

If you’d like to get in touch, please use our contact form.

Covid-19 and climbers’ chalk

Chalky hands
Frictionlabs chalk, available from The Castle Shop

In the spring, as climbing centres closed in line with the initial lockdown, rumours abounded that climbers’ chalk could be a source of transmitting particles of the virus, fomites, to use the jargon.

However, more recent research would suggest that these early fears were misguided. Investigations by a team at De Montfort University suggests that, on the contrary, chalk may actually help to prevent transmission. A statement has been issued by the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC):

A model coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2, human coronavirus OC43, was used for the experiments. The presence of infectious virus on a plastic surface dusted with chalk was monitored over the course of one hour. The results indicated that the amount of infectious virus was reduced by around 99% immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces. By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present, showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over these time periods.

Read the ABC press release

What about liquid chalk?

Traditional liquid climbing chalk chalk contains less than 70% alcohol, so it is below the minimum level required to kill Coronavirus. New forms of liquid chalk have a higher percentage, but the latest research suggests that it is no more effective. A chemist charged to investigate the issue concluded that:

[Liquid chalk] is completely ineffective in killing any potential viruses on the climber’s hands, and more importantly, on the holds on the wall.

Read the full report on liquid chalk and Covid-19


While powder chalk may help to limit transmission, it is important to stick to the three things that we know to be effective:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based gel for at least 20 seconds
  • Wear a mask (over your mouth and nose) wherever and whenever possible
  • Maintain social distance