CEO's blog | Don’t put all your eggs in one basket


You may have read a recent article in The Times, which featured UK Chief Commissioner, Wayne Bulpitt talking about the importance of Scouting in developing character. He’s right of course...

Character building

The current political focus on how we instil character in young people is something we warmly welcome. As Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts (RSA), says in his recent blog on character education: ‘It’s strange how ideas that have simmered in the policy undergrowth, sometimes seeming to have been totally extinguished, suddenly burst out like bush fire. A dedicated group of academics, policy makers, charities and educational practitioners have long argued for the importance of character development in children’s life chances.’

However, many believe that character and resilience were either something children inherited through their genes or that such qualities were too old-fashioned for our modern world. Scouting has never made these mistakes. For over a century, we have helped young people build character. We understand that the qualities that make up good character are developed through experience, responsibility, challenge and adventure.

The Scouting method develops skills that have the power to transform lives and societies. It is character, not just academic qualifications, which is vital for a successful career and life. It is something every employer values in their staff.

The impact of Scouting

I see the impact of Scouting and character every day in my work. Nearly nine out of ten of our young people say that Scouting has helped them develop leadership, communication and character. And it does not end when they leave: those that were in the Scouts when young are twice as likely to volunteer as the population at large.

We welcome the debate about the importance of character and how we can help young people develop its qualities. However, it is critical that we don’t limit the discussion to the role of formal education. School is of course vitally important to develop a rounded education, but it is by no means the only route to building character.

Indeed, I have found it striking just how many young people have told me that what is special about Scouting is that it offers something different to school. They value having another support network, the chance to make new friends and the range of activities we offer.

They tell me that they value learning, often without realising it at the time, outside of what can be a pressurised school environment. Perhaps most of all, they value it because it is fun; not something everyone thinks about their schooldays.

So while school has an important role in shaping the character of its pupils, I hope it is not regarded as the only route to this goal; youth movements like Scouting, outside the formal education system, can reach individuals and groups where schools can struggle.

Effective partnerships

What we need is to do more to build and expand genuine and effective partnerships that draw on the best organisations have to offer. This is regardless of whether they are schools, youth organisations, businesses, communities or government. That is why Scouting is already working with a number of schools to see how the combination of non-formal and formal education can best help young people.

At the University Academy in Toxteth, Liverpool, there is a dedicated Scout Group, with Scouting embedded into the curriculum. Normal teaching activity takes place during the day but is based on the Scout method of learning by doing rather than classroom-based exercises.

In West Yorkshire, the Bradford Academy has encouraged teachers to train as Scout leaders and open a new Beaver Colony. Once established, parents and other volunteers will take over the Group and welcome those from across the community; not just pupils.

In Scotland, the Curriculum for Excellence helps young people demonstrate how what they are doing outside of the classroom is contributing to their educational outcomes. Scout leaders in Scotland have acknowledged an increased interest in Scouting, due in part to Curriculum for Excellence, and aspects of the programme have been highlighted to show how Scouts are meeting the learning outcomes in the curriculum.

Accessible to all

Character development should be accessible to all, not just to those from privileged backgrounds. All of those engaged in this debate agree on this point. Yet, in trying to develop what many would see as traditional British qualities, we risk sticking to unnecessarily traditional methods, which in the long-term will prove counterproductive.

A willingness to innovate, not simply to rely on our existing education structures, will provide a much better result for our young people today and in the future. This will be a central component of our new 2014-18 strategic plan. Because putting our eggs all in one basket is a risky approach to an exciting, important and timely challenge.

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