10 good things to know about our early years pilot scheme

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By Kester Sharpe, Deputy UK Chief Commissioner 


The announcement of a pilot scheme for early years Scouting is tremendously exciting. But as a volunteer myself, I know it will lead to some questions and genuine concerns locally too. I want to address some of these here. 

1.   By ‘early years’, we mean four and five-year-olds

Since Scouting began, we’ve helped young people develop skills for life. Now, increasing evidence suggests that this is even more beneficial to younger children during this incredibly important and formative stage of their lives. 

2.   Early years Scouting could well bring new volunteers into the movement 

In America, 75% of new parents from their early years programme, Lions, remained in the movement, going on to become volunteers in older sections. This is highly promising for increasing our overall pool of volunteers. 

3.   The plan to trial early years is included in our new Skills for Life strategy 

Exploring the idea of Scouting for early years is an aspiration in our Skills for Life strategy, launched in May this year. This strategy was developed based on consultation with 15,000 people, including powerful testimony at Summit 17 from volunteers in Northern Ireland with experience of delivering Squirrels. 

4.   Doing things differently is key to our diversity

If we do the same thing, we can only expect the same results, or marginal increases in our reach and diversity. We need to look beyond our traditional audiences and challenge ourselves to innovate. When they trialled early years Scouting in the US, they saw that 61% of Lions members were from families new to Scouting. 

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5.   The pilot is being funded by the Department of Education  

The idea of a pilot scheme for early years was always dependent on funding. Now that funding has been secured from the Department of Education, we’re moving ahead with the pilot scheme. We’re running this in some of the England’s most deprived areas as we believe this will deliver the greatest benefit, and we’re looking for match funding to pilot this in the nations too. 

6.   This is a pilot scheme, not the launch of a new section 

This is not an extension of Beaver Scouts. The funding is for a pilot scheme for a new age range, initially 20 pilots in England, but we are seeking further funding to see if we can pilot in other areas. The pilots will run for at least a year. We will then consult with the young people, adults and partners taking part, before making any long-term decision on extending the pilot. 

7.   The Department for Education has agreed to help fund 20 pilots in England with groups from disadvantaged areas

The pilots will provide spaces for 288 young people aged four to five years and their families, helping us reach more young people in the places where Scouting is needed most. 

8.   The early years pilot schemes does not have a name 

Although we know that sections for early years running in other countries have names such as Lions and Squirrels, this is a pilot scheme and will not run under a specific name. It will simply be known as ‘early years Scouting,’ although we will test options for a name as part of the pilot.

9.   Please do not start any new early years section locally, unless you are part of the pilot 

This will be a learning experience not just for young people but for us as a movement. Therefore, we ask that you do not independently start early years provision outside of these pilots. Remember, unofficial provision is against our rules and is not insured. The existing Squirrels programme, run under a Memorandum of Understanding with Scouts NI, continues.  

10.   You can let us know if you’re interested in taking part 

Groups interested in taking part in the pilot can use this form to express their interest. Those in more deprived parts of the UK are particularly encouraged to take part in these pilots.  

We’re launching the pilot as we believe that it will help us prepare more young people with skills for life. By introducing positive Scouting experiences at this stage in their lives, we believe we can better prepare young people for the future.   

Thank you as ever for your support during this time of change, development and discovery.  We will keep you updated with the progress of the pilots and share the findings. 

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Find out more about the announcement here. 

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