As anyone who works in a challenging school will know, when children’s lives are consistently chaotic and their influences less than positive, they do not come to school ready to learn.
They have neither the desire nor resilience to sit in a classroom and practise their times tables; they see no bearing on their life in the short or long term.
This is often the case at our school, whose leafy environs in Guildford, Surrey belie the challenging reality of our intake. The majority of pupils live on two neighbouring estates, one of which has 40 per cent workless households. The proportion of pupils classed as SEN, pupil premium and EAL is above average, mobility is high and attendance is poor. Even when parents wish to support their child’s learning and expand their horizons, they do not always have the skills, knowledge or means to do so.
And that’s where Scouting comes in.
The stories of improved confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills I heard during a talk last year on Scouting in schools made an overwhelming impression on me: this was exactly what our pupils needed. They needed an opportunity to learn in different ways, to have “everyday adventure” and to develop life skills.
When children’s lives are chaotic, they do not come ready to learn
The presentation was on “learning by doing” at TKAT’s Horizon Primary Academy, which had structured its timetable to incorporate Scouting on Friday afternoons. Although Scouting at Horizon was still relatively new, the positive impact on attendance, behaviour for learning, engagement and, consequently, attainment was already starting to emerge.
Following Horizon’s lead, I proposed Scouting as a core part of our school development plan and am grateful that my governors and trust shared my enthusiasm – we all knew something radically different had to be tried if we were ever going to break the cycle of generational disadvantage. My deputy headteacher kick-started a lengthy process of meetings with the Scouts Association and Guildford West District, who have been incredibly supportive in making our dream a reality.
After hosting several taster sessions, we were finally able to officially launch 1st Weyfield as a registered Scouts Group last month, when over 90 pupils in years 4 and 5 chose to join. Watching the children make their promise in front of parents was genuinely moving; already, their sense of pride was palpable.
We’ve since appointed Sixers and Seconders in each Cub Pack, giving leadership opportunities to children who have shown potential to be excellent role models. One of their first responsibilities will be presenting at a local community youth fundraising event later this month.
Scouting at Weyfield is still in its trial phase. While it has been wonderful to see the children engaged in a range of activities on Friday afternoons, we remain cautiously optimistic about the tangible benefits.
We something radically different had to be tried if we were ever going to break the cycle of generational disadvantage
We are using several measures to track impact, such as a strengths and difficulties questionnaire as part of our Achievement for All programme, which all children completed in December and will re-visit in July. We will evaluate the outcomes carefully at the end of this year before deciding whether to extend the offer.
Long-term funding continues to be a priority: like most schools, we have been exercising austerity measures for the best part of three years and this is not set to change. We have reviewed and re-brokered all our service level agreements and made significant operational savings, channelling everything into enhancing the curriculum. If we can demonstrate impact, we are committed to ensuring that every pupil has the opportunity to be invested as a Scout and that means assuming all the costs.
My ultimate hope is that by participating in Scouting our children will be in a better place to learn, physically and emotionally. I also want our young people to feel empowered and connected as part of a global movement – and this is proving true for the school as a whole. The passion for Scouting from the local community and other Scout Groups has already led to new partnerships for Weyfield.
We’ve had teachers applying for jobs because they used to be a Scout and I hope the opportunity to train as a Scout Leader will help retain existing staff. In short, the positive externalities may be immeasurable and, hopefully, life-changing.
Mei Lim is headteacher and Scout Leader at Weyfield Primary Academy