Scouting is, domestically and globally, one of the most prevalent community organisations, with an estimated 31 million members worldwide. In thousands of weekly sessions, leaders endeavour to put on activities for their young people to combat adolescent stasis, with the ultimate goal of bringing entertainment to children across a range of ages and backgrounds. These efforts are proving increasingly valuable at a time when children may lack key inter-personal and leadership skills necessary for wider life, arguably a deficit brought on by rising screen addiction and an unwillingness of many young people to engage with those around them – in particular, from different areas or cliques.

Scouting is an international movement, with units in 216 countries dating back to 1908. It has a long and rooted reputation for developing more traditional skills which were particularly valuable in the twentieth century, from camping to cooking, pioneering to shooting. Originally, these would have been directed at developing the skills needed in the military; these were easily extended to wider life in the outdoors, something which many children from deprived urban communities lacked access to. Despite these more stringently focussed roles of Scouting, it must be added that the primary goal of any unit is the development of a strong moral compass in its young people, as they become accustomed to influences outside of their family and mix with those of a similar age. At such a pivotal time in the lives of adolescents, Scouting has helped prepare millions of children for adult life, imbuing in them key qualities such as kindness and readiness for the unexpected. The latter is seen clearly in the Scouts’ moto of ‘Be Prepared’, characterising the behaviour of a Scout as ready for any tasks they might be faced with. This is married with the former, kindness, a quality central to the concept of a ‘good turn’: an act of kindness which the children are encouraged to perform daily. From this, the value of Scouting’s principals is shown to be congruent with the principals of schooling and parenthood, demonstrating the significance of the organisation to children who might lack other positive influences in their private lives.

Although I have been in Scouting from the age of 6, it has been impossible not to wonder at the nature of change that the organisation must have experienced since its founding in 1908. Even though these attributes of dedication and compassion from leaders endure, the exposure to Scouting I have encountered is surely far from the reality faced by those a generation before me. One of the main aspects of many Scouts’ careers is the collection of badges, and though I didn’t attend a badge-oriented group, such a circumstance is rare in a community where their collection is of almost competitive importance. Many are still centred around traditional activities, such as the Angler badge or Nights Away staged badge. Yet looking at the selection which now adorns many new Scouts’ arms, there are some new skills which are given merit. One such example is the Electronics badge, making use of modern technologies which would not have been available at the foundation of Scouting. The Entertainer badge is also an increasingly popular award, most prevalent in the Explorer Scouts (14-18) where it tops the list, making it almost 3 times more popular than hiking as an award to pursue.

Perhaps this shows the differences in the skills I am exposed to today compared to those encouraged by Robert Baden Powell. This analysis, based on records from 2002 – 2009, suggests that the activities undertaken by contemporary Scouts could prepare them less for the life outdoors, as was the original aim, and more for the ever-evolving word of work, assuredly not the vision of Baden Powell. As a young leader, there is a continual struggle with health and safety in running my unit, meaning that we are now unable to provide some of the more traditional activities which were previously available to Scouts. In many cases, this is a very good thing, safeguarding the young people we work with; nevertheless, many would still argue that it limits the capacity for enjoyment that the group can provide. Regardless of this, however, I can still stand to testify that Scouting, a keystone in the lives of millions of children globally, must be safeguarded also. As we adapt to the dynamic environment in which young people grow up, we must not forsake the archaic principals that Scouting is symbolic of: kindness, an embrace of the outdoors, and a togetherness which is sacrificed by too many communities across the globe.

Theo Horch, Wilson’s Grammar School.