Scouting in schools: developing character by doing
A pioneering new project, Character By Doing, has seen Scouting rolled out across six primary schools, helping hundreds of children to join the adventure.
Trudging through a field in the mud, and following the soft echoes of children's voices, we walk towards smoke wafting through the air from a campfire. As we draw nearer, I can hear a performance of the ‘Nae Nae’, a popular song and dance of 2015. It’s 2.30pm and although it’s a cold and damp Monday afternoon in December, we find a group of Cubs sat around the fire, excitedly mixing dough in a bowl and cooking foil-wrapped parcels, blissfully unaware of the weather. They’re having too much fun to notice.
‘They wanted to come out in just their T-shirts!’ explains Carly, who works for The Scout Association and on the Character By Doing project. ‘We had to send them back inside to put more clothes on – I don’t think these Cubs feel the cold.’
Today is the first day of what will be two residential activity programmes, taking place at Gilwell Park and Youlbury Scout Activity Centres as part of the Character By Doing pilot project. TSA is running this in partnership with independent think-tank Demos, to measure our impact on young people. For six months, six primary schools in and around the south-east and East Midlands areas of the UK are trialling a bespoke Scouting programme that links with the schools’ Key Stage 2 national curriculum.
‘This is the first chance that the pilot schools have had to spend time together, so it’s a great opportunity for them to recognise that they are part of a much bigger community, both in terms of the project, and within the Movement as a whole,’ continues Carly.
The Scout Method, with its emphasis on learning by doing, is a practical way to approach education and help to develop skills that young people will need to be ‘future prepared’ in life, learning and beyond. The pilot scheme in schools will test if the young people, many of whom wouldn’t have access to Scouting in a traditional context, benefit through their involvement in the programme. This will be measured in terms of both educational attainment and their character development. The pilot kicked off in September 2015 and will ran until March 2016.
Before the project started, The Scout Association consulted young people, volunteers, teachers and policy makers about the concept of Scouting working with schools. There was support from existing adult volunteers (53% were in favour, only 26% weren’t), suggesting partnerships can help to reach young people who wouldn’t otherwise engage with Scouting.
Making a positive impact on the community
Over the next 24 hours the children will participate in indoor and outdoor archery, crate-stacking, backwoods cooking and climbing. For most of the young people this will be their first time taking part in a residential event and spending time away from home.
‘Coming here has been a big deal; 60% of the children we brought here have never experienced anything like this before. By taking part they are building up resilience, confidence and self esteem,’ Dave, a learning mentor from Fairlight Primary School, says.
Building on a history of successful partnerships with schools and talking to the ones taking part in the pilot project, it’s clear that incorporating Scouting within the school curriculum is already having an impact in the local community.
‘We recently went into the community to do some litter collecting,’ says Dave. ‘Every single child took out a bag and not one complained about doing it. I didn’t realise until I got home that night that we collected 27 bags of rubbish – every child filled a bag. People in the community saw us out with our neckers on and wearing our Fairlight high-visibility jackets and they were impressed. It’s good because the children get to learn how to look after their local area.’
Even though the environment of Scouting in this context has changed, how Scouting affects young people remains the same. Reflecting on the activities of the day, Dave continues: ‘Today has been a real success, and to see the spectrum of children we’ve got - for example, speaking English as an additional language (EAL) and children from different backgrounds - engaging in Scouting, has been really lovely to see. And knowing that children who don’t really know each other in school have bonded because of this is great!’
Rising to the challenge
Nine-year-old Sirak from Fairlight Primary School has come on leaps and bounds, overcoming his fear of heights and sleeping away from home for one night. ‘Today I did archery for the first time and, at first, I was nervous but we all listened to what we were supposed to do and it all went well, everyone had fun,' he says excitedly. 'My second activity was climbing and at first I was very scared but then I trusted myself because of Cubs and all of the other activities I’ve done and, because I believed in myself, I climbed and reached the top.’
Sirak wasn’t the only one who struggled with overcoming a fear of heights: Vanessa from Horizon Primary School did too. ‘When I first did rock climbing I didn’t even get to the middle, I just looked down and thought I couldn’t do it.’
‘But she got to the top the second time,’ chirped her best friend, also from Horizon Primary School.
Kent-based Horizon Primary School has opened up Scouting to the whole school. On a Friday afternoon, pupils, teachers and volunteers swap their usual roles for their Scouting identities.
‘From the beginning, I was really passionate about having it across the school,’ explains Kate, the headteacher. ‘I’m involved with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and I know the value of children learning by doing and not just sitting at a desk and being in the classroom all the time. We’ve got quite a high pupil premium in our school, with about 49% on free school meals.
'The sort of opportunities the children have outside school can be quite limited, so they don’t often get to leave Swanley,' Kate continues. 'Even though there are Cub Packs in the District, none of our children were participating in those Groups. My view on that is that you don’t know what you’re missing on until you try. And unless I give a taste of it to the children as part of the curriculum and during school time, they may not ever have take part in Scouting.'
Inside the Scout hut
So what does Scouting in the middle of the school day look like? Well it looks like ordinary Scouting, except the HQ is a little unusual. The corridors are lined with bold blue wooden doors that open into colourful classrooms filled with miniature chairs, stacks of workbooks and presentations on the walls. There are pegs for tiny coats, low enough for the shortest Beaver to reach, and across the school the walls are decorated with photos of the pupils engaged in Scouting.
Walking around the school on a Friday afternoon, you can sense the excitement as the young people gear up for the afternoon’s activities – and the teachers are just as excited!
The school is split into Beaver Colonies and Cub Packs, with each group doing a different activity, from science experiments to transforming the main hall into indoor archery.
‘The pilot Cub Pack are doing Chinese New Year dancing today’, says Kate. ‘And they have created a dragon.’
Sure enough, in the classroom there’s an extremely long paper plate dragon pinned together with fasteners and embellished with feathers, paint and glitter. Before they can finish off their dragon and practice their dance, the Cubs and teachers have to get ready for the Grand Howl.
From the outside, Scouting in schools may look a little unusual, but the school’s approach to Scouting is rooted in the Fundamentals, clearly evidenced in posters displayed around the school.
After the Grand Howl, the Cubs rush to pull out their badge books and each child’s face lights up with pride as they stick their badges in.
John, the District Commissioner for Swanley, looks on as the Pack gathers together to finish making their Chinese dragon. ‘Fast-forward this project 20 years and all these young people here (and there will be hundreds of them) will be future leaders. If this project goes into more schools, it could radically change The Scout Association.’
John’s voice is drowned out by Chinese music erupting from the classroom. Cubs spill out of the room excitedly, struggling to hold up the enormous dragon they’ve made. Suddenly, Beavers and Cubs from other rooms pop their heads around the doors to see what is going on as the Pack dance through the school.
Over the coming year, TSA will continue to discuss whether partnerships with schools could be a way to grow our Movement and support the development of young people. For now, young people and teachers involved in these pilots will continue learning by doing.
This story was originally printed in March edition of Scouting Magazine. Read the full magazine here