Tuesday, 26 June 2018

How on earth should they tell people?

We should all know that major programme changes are coming to Guiding in the UK, to be finally announced and launched in a few weeks' time.  Because the information has been communicated to Leaders in a range of places and ways.  It has had wide coverage in each of the last few issues of Guiding Magazine (which is sent by post to all adult members free of charge quarterly).  There have been regular articles on the website as front-page splashes.  E-newsletters have been issued to all who subscribe to them, each containing many references and links, and often with the coming programme changes as the lead story.  There has been coverage in various forms of social media such as Facebook and twitter, on both the official and the unofficial forums, national and local.  There have been several questionnaires and surveys issued from headquarters by various means in order to collect opinions from Leaders.  Many Counties have included updates in their regular newsletters (on paper or online), and some have organised trainings.  Taster packs of activities have been issued to every unit, in all sections, for them to try.  Units were invited to apply to test activities and feedback on them.  Information on how it will actually work as a structure and for the unit week to week, and what the specific details will be for the individual unit - may be scant - but by any reasonable measure, and regardless of your opinion on the content of the information issued, every Leader should be aware that significant change is coming, for all sections, and starting from Autumn 2018.


But – are they aware?


It seems that, despite the vast amount of time, effort and expense to date on communications - there are still some Leaders out there who have a vague awareness that change is coming, but no idea of what or what scale.  And, more amazingly still, there are also some Leaders who claim not to have heard of any coming change whatsoever.  These are often the Leaders who will freely admit they never open the wrapper of the magazine which is sent to them (or who haven’t kept their contact details up to date in order to receive their copy), who don’t subscribe to any of the e-newsletters, who delete Guiding emails unread and do not check the national website, who don’t attend District meetings or read the minutes from them, and don’t read the County newsletter or website.


One might suggest that those who try so hard to remain uninformed – could be judged to have ‘voted with their feet’ and might have their clearly-expressed wish to be left in the dark respected?  How much effort should Guiding bother to put into trying to issue information scattergun by umpteen means in the hope that a little of it might reach the attention of these hard-to-hit targets?  Or should Guiding simply focus on using a few means, electronic and non-electronic, which between them are sufficient to reach all those who want to hear.  The rest can sink or swim when the changes come, as they so choose?


The problem with that is - that for every Leader who does not receive the information, it means a whole unit of girls, and their families, do not receive it either.  For the Leaders are not at the end of the communication chain, they are one of the key links in it.  If they have not grasped that change is coming (far less what the change incorporates and means for them and for their units) they will not be informing their units that it is coming, nor preparing the unit’s programme towards it by preparing to tie up the loose ends and letting the girls and families know that they might want to finish off any challenges they are currently tackling, and any badge work which has been started.  And the unit members could be left high and dry too, with challenges or major awards part-way through (or almost completed) the deadline for completion past and the badges for them no longer available.  Meantime the new programme could be well under way and most of the trainings on it long since over.  It may be that the first they know of a change may be when they can no longer get the badges for the old programme, and not a minute before. 


So, in terms of those Leaders who claim full ignorance that anything is happening and who have proved unreachable so far - what more can (or should) Headquarters do to reach them?  If anything?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

I reckon the new Guiding programmes will all be absolute rubbish . . .

I have been watching on various Leader forums, and that certainly does seem to be the most popular viewpoint amongst those commenting.  None of that “wait and see how it pans out” nonsense.


So far, the only clear information we have had on what activities the new programme will actually contain - comes from the activities which some units tested (mainly in the early days when these were very much ‘what if’ options being tried out, some of which were popular and some very far from it) and from the taster pack of a dozen activity cards per section which were sent out in the autumn.  (These seem to have had a slightly more positive reception from the girls, perhaps more so than from the leaders – a lot of leaders found the activities familiar, which was inevitable given they were ideas submitted by other leaders – for there are no new ideas under the sun, just old ideas in a new guise).


I did make sure my units volunteered to take part in the testing.  Partly because I tend to the view that if you get the opportunity to participate in the decision making and choose not to, you shouldn’t then criticise the results which emerge from those who do, given you opted to let that ship sail.  But also, for these ideas to be tested in as wide a range of real situations as possible, headquarters need to have a lot of volunteers from across the country providing a wide range of different unit and leader circumstances for each activity, without overloading any one unit.  After all, we want the new programme’s activities to work for all possible circumstances – including (perhaps especially) our own peculiar ones.  Of the activities my own units tested, some we gave reasonably positive feedback to, and some, very negative feedback indeed.  But such is inevitable with testing early prototypes.  They were drafted with the intention that they would be altered at least a bit, perhaps radically, dependent on the feedback received . . .


We’ve also been given an idea of the programme’s overall structure – the 6 main themes, the structure of ‘Skills Builders’ which will be done on these topics to earn badges (which are effectively ‘staged’ across the age groups), and the Unit Meeting Activities (which we’ve had 12 samples of) to be slotted in to our schedules to give balance to our programmes and enhance the girls’ and leaders’ own activity ideas.  The awards the girls will get for completing one of the 6 topics (these awards still to be named), and the Gold Award they will get for completing all 6 plus an extra challenge whilst in a particular section (Rainbow Gold Award, Brownie Gold Award, Guide Gold Award, Ranger Gold Award).  Annual membership badges are coming back, though a name for them is yet to be confirmed, as is their format – so we will wait to see how they will run.  And there will be interest badges for the girls to work on at home, each with three clauses – again probably different in design from the existing ones, but the format and subjects covered are yet to be confirmed other than that each will have three clauses, and there will be different numbers of interest badge topics for each section – and they will be part of Gold Award, ensuring that those who gain Gold Awards will have put in some of their own time, it won’t just be a ‘turn up and join in’ badge which regular attenders collect might collect ‘on the way past’ just by regularly attending and taking part in whatever activities the Leaders arrange at weekly meetings. We know how many interest badges each section will have – but we don’t know quite what topics they will be on, or what the three clauses will be like.


And we’ve been told that one of the aims is to have continuity and progression across the sections, thus developing the girls’ skills and experience in an ongoing, structured way as they move up through the age groups, with the idea that moving from one section to another should be the natural, perhaps near-automatic step for most members, and consequently see fewer girls drop out between sections.


Certainly, there are still quite a lot of details we have yet to find out about.  What will actually be in the Skills Builders for each section?  What topics the interest badges will cover and how much work they will require?  How much work a Gold Award will take, and what sort of thing the extra challenge at the end might be?  What badges and books will look like, and how comprehensive the books will be – will there be lots of sections to fill in, or will there be scope for them to be handed down?  How big will the Skills Builder badges be, and how will they be done – will it be one topic at a time for a few weeks or months, or will the girls be doing bits and pieces across all of them, then tying up the loose ends of them all just before they move section?  And where there are unknowns there is, automatically, negativity.


We will receive instructions in due course on how to transition the girls who are currently in our units from current programme to new, so they can get credit for the stage they have reached when the new programme begins.  Naturally it will take time for each of us to work out how best to manage that transition for the differing stages each of our girls is at.  But the guidelines will detail how we are to proceed, and we can try to ensure that each girl carries through on the current programme to a natural break point over the next term or so – to help Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to finish off the Roundabout/Adventure/Challenge badge they are currently working on, for instance.


And yet, for all the criticism – from what we’ve been told of the programme so far, many of those who have criticised the current programme - are to get what they have been asking for, from the new programme.  Handbooks for each section.  Interest Badges for Rainbows and for Rangers.  A structured programme for all the sections which follows through from one section to the next.  A ‘highest award’ to aim for in each section, not just for the older girls.  All of these are things people have been asking for, and all of them are being delivered.


So what do I reckon about it?  Well, I reckon that at worst, I just don’t yet know enough to judge.  But ‘not enough to judge’ doesn’t just mean I can’t yet praise it - it also means I can’t yet criticise it.  It could be brilliant for me and for my units, it could be dire, but it’s far more likely to be somewhere in-between.  Where in-between, we can wait and see.  There are bound to be some negatives for my units, yes, but also bound to be positives too, which may outweigh, possibly by quite a margin.


But, in the meantime, nervous about it as I naturally am, I have been through programme changes before.  And I can honestly say that I expect there will at least be positives amongst it at worst – so no, I don’t think it will all be absolute rubbish.

Monday, 12 February 2018

A celebrity figurehead for Guiding?

As another reality TV show wound to it’s conclusion, so it’s winner promptly became the latest social media suggestion of a potential celebrity chief for Guiding.  This was only days after the next lady due join the Royal family was the one being touted, hot on the heels of suggestions of a former Blue Peter presenter, who had succeeded a former Olympic rower, several female presenters of nature/countryside television programmes, and various suggestions before that.  The cynic in me suggests that soon the reality show winner will have been forgotten, another name suggested, and so it will continue.  And if a celebrity chief ever were to be appointed to head UK Guiding (which is a ‘big if’ given we don’t even know whether the topic is under consideration), I suspect there would be few praising whoever got such a job, no matter who it might be or whatever relevant skills and qualifications they might have for the post – that few drowned out by the flood of critics.  Regardless.


First question – why might we want a celebrity chief?  A celebrity could attract publicity to Guiding, and could give it a higher profile, especially if high profile themselves - which could encourage recruitment, especially youth recruitment.  Higher profile is likely if they chose the right celebrity – one who would be known to and attractive to all youth members (even the youngest), and who would have on-going fame amongst the youth age groups in particular over an extended period (not the classic ‘famous for 15 minutes’).  But - also someone who would present a positive image for Guiding to parents and the public, would mention Guiding at many of their public appearances whether specifically Guiding-related ones or not, and who would have the availability to attend some of the key Guiding events each year.


We would equally need someone who could do all that whilst avoiding ever doing or saying anything controversial for the tabloids to latch onto – we have to consider the age range, especially impressionable younger members – so no inappropriate behaviour, at any time.  From the experience of Scouting we can see pros and cons of being fronted by a celebrity whilst having a ‘working chief’ in the background – and a glance at the Scout social media forums confirms that the picture is mixed, with a lot of negative comment from Leaders regarding their current postholder (youth opinion is harder to discern).  This leads us onto the less positive reason for some in Guiding wanting a celebrity chief or figurehead for Guiding – simply ‘because the Scouts have got one’.  Need we copycat everything they do, and be assumed to be displaying jealousy?  Or would the pros outweigh the cons and justify that risk?


On the pro side, there is no doubt that positive publicity enhances the image and reputation of any organisation, and celebrities can bring media attention and coverage to events that wouldn’t otherwise attract it.  Media are far more likely to turn out to any event if there is guaranteed to be a celebrity appearance and photo opportunity to fill their gossip pages with, merely in exchange for mentioning the charity.  And dependent on the background of the celebrity, it may help to bring awareness of the organisation to sections of youth which can sometimes be hard to reach or to engage with, helping to kill some of the myths about the organisation being white, Christian, middle class, etc.


On the con side, though a celebrity chief could attract publicity – you wouldn’t have any choice over what sort of publicity it might be.  Ill-drafted tweets, controversial opinions, ‘wardrobe malfunctions’, ‘four-letter words’, ‘indiscretions’ – any or all would automatically be presented as ‘Guides’ chief says’ or ‘Guides’ chief does’ – whether there was any connection between what was allegedly said/done and their Guiding role, or none whatsoever, and whether it was recent or years ago.  Not all publicity is good publicity, and with anyone high-profile enough to draw media attention, all types of media attention will indeed be drawn, good and bad.  To quote Jonathan Swift “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it”.  We’ve all seen the giant-size tabloid headlines and double-page spreads accusing someone in the public eye of whatever kind of inappropriate behaviour (and all failed, despite trying, to spot the single paragraph of retraction, months later, buried in the bottom corner of an inside page under a bland title!)


Nevertheless, even with a ‘celebrity chief’ you would still need to have a ‘working chief’ as well – someone to chair the meetings, to attend the County and Region events around the country, to actually take charge of the running of the organisation, to make the policy decisions, and do all the backroom work which doesn’t attract attention, but is often more important than the occasional public appearances which do.  Would you still be able to attract a sufficiently high calibre of candidate to this ‘working chief’ job, if candidates knew it would mean doing all the hard work in private, but being upstaged at public events by the celebrity who turns up for 20 minutes, signs a few autographs, says the ‘few words’ you scripted, then isn’t seen for dust?


The other thing to consider, is what you would actually be getting for your money (for of course, the celebrity’s presence would generate expense even if they themselves were giving their time for free).  How many hours a year would the celebrity be able to allocate to your cause?  If they are still active in their career then any charity commitments would have to be fitted around their working hours – and your bookings then fitted in amongst the bookings from the other causes which have already recruited the same celebrity, or may in future do so.  Would the days/times the celebrity can offer be ones Guiding could readily utilise?  Would they be willing to attend events around the UK and occasionally beyond, or only those within an hour’s travel of their home?  Then you need to consider the expenses – when attending events will they require a driver to take them to and from the venue, business class air travel or first class train?  Helicopter?  Dressing rooms?  Catering?  Accommodation?  Security?  Will they be willing to meet and chat to youth members at events – or would they need to be protected and kept apart for ‘security reasons’?  Will they be bringing staff with them, and will those staff need hospitality too?  Would they be willing to appear in Guiding uniform - or not?  Will extra admin staff be needed to deal with their correspondence and itineraries?


Then, what sort of person would we want to have, and what would we expect of them?  If you ask someone newly famous, there is the risk that their career may wane – and you end up with someone who doesn’t attract any media coverage for you, and whom younger members have not heard of.  If you ask someone more established then they are likely to already have many other charity commitments taking up what free time they can offer to volunteer work.  Also , someone more established may not currently be at a career peak – Rainbows and younger Brownies will only have heard of someone who has been high profile during the last 2-3 years, regardless what they have achieved in the past (or may achieve in the future), nor whether they are reckoned to have ongoing fame by adults.  If you choose an adventurer then it may help to promote your organisation as outdoors-based and exciting, but you risk negative headlines if the adventurer is caught taking safety shortcuts, if any accidents happen to them, or if they are caught implying hardship or jeopardy where actually there was little or none.  If you choose someone in the music or acting trades then their performances and outfits (far in the past as well as recent) are likely to be analysed in search of anything inappropriate for young children.  Sports people are famous when at the peak of their career, but careers are short and they retire comparatively young, usually to a low-profile.


Last, and perhaps most important – if we look back at some of the people who have been caught up in public scandals over the last few years – many of them are the sort of people who were or could have been approached by charities to be ambassadors.  We as an organisation have to consider very carefully who we bring into contact with our young members.  Even those who seem to be good role models may turn out to have skeletons hidden in their closets.  Is the risk of that justified by what might be gained?


Do we want a celebrity figurehead?  And if so, how do we decide on the right person, what sort of role would we be looking for them to take, and to what extent would we be willing to live with the expense and the possible consequences?

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Programmes After Dark

Here we are, an exciting new spring term.  A new year, a fresh start, a lively programme.  Problem is, outside it’s dark, it’s cold, and it could easily be raining or snowing, so for the next few weeks at least, there’s a high risk of your programme having to be mainly indoors.  And for an outdoor adventure-based organisation like ours, it’s hard to keep up the enthusiasm and keep the programmes exciting in a dusty hall now the Christmas decorations are down again.


Of course, it does mean we can give a little time to checking up on the progress – how are the girls doing with their Roundabouts/Adventure Badges/Challenge Badges/Octants?  Are there some areas where they are a little behind, are there some clauses we need to make time in the programme to cover, or to improve the balance in what we’re doing?  This year, with the programme changes coming up, we will want to ensure that all the girls get the chance to finish off the awards they are working on in the current programme, so that we can manage the transition to the new programme when the time comes, without anyone missing out. 


We can also plan ahead – teach skills ready for the summer.  Now’s the time to learn some new songs ready for the campfire season.  We can practice skills ready for the sleepovers, holidays and camps in the summer – how to pack the luggage, how to make the bed, how to wash the dishes, how to do simple cooking – yes, now is the time to practice all of that so that when the summer comes we aren’t stuck indoors learning the theory, we’re doing the practical.


It’s also a good time to work on our good turn/be prepared skills – do the girls know simple first aid, and what to do with minor accidents?  Do they know how to throw a lifeline, and other options for water rescue (especially, knowing to stay out of the water when rescuing, no matter how many swimming medals they have, to ensure one casualty doesn’t become two)?  Do they know about home safety, how to spot potential accidents and prevent them? 


There can also be scope for getting outdoors at this time of year.  Have your girls tried looking into the night sky to spot constellations, or visited an observatory, or been shown the night sky by an astronomy enthusiast?  Have they ever looked at animal tracks in snow or mud, made plaster casts of them, tried to identify them?  Is there a countryside ranger or nature club who would be willing to take your unit out to see nocturnal animals?  Have you done torchlit trails using glow sticks, old CDs or tinfoil cake cases on strings?  Have you done wide games in local streets, using the codes on street lamps, or nearby lanes and alleys as a playground?  Have you tried lighting a fire and cooking on it – if you have a car park or slabbed area outside your hall then you can use a metal colander or a foil ‘disposable’ barbecue foil tray on a couple of bricks, as a container to build your fire in.


Because it’s a time of year when people are inclined to hibernate – try to build some exercise and fitness into your programmes.  Outings could be to a swimming pool or skating rink.  You could have a dance session, or a gymnastics session.  Why not recreate some of the winter Olympics sports indoors – could you create a version of skiing, skating, ice hockey, curling? 


And of course, there are lots of festivals during the spring which we can use to bring colour and international interest to our programmes.  So much so that the only one we should mark every year is, of course, Thinking Day – as for the rest, why not try some different ones this year, and give the ‘usual’ ones a rest for once – they’ll be so much fresher if you leave them until next year!

Friday, 29 December 2017

Presents for the unit?

Whether it’s selection boxes at Christmas, chocolate eggs at Easter, gifts at the end-of-summer-term outing, or ‘I turned up’ badges – a custom has grown up in the last decade or so in some units of giving not just Christmas cards, but also actual presents to all the girls.  Sometimes the Leaders buy them out of their own pocket, sometimes the unit bank funds are raided.  And I am referring to direct gifts – not crafts which the girls have made for themselves, nor the prizes from the party games the girls competed in, nor badges for challenges tackled or for skills learned as part of an activity.  Gifts for having been a member of the unit at that time of year, or for having turned up to a unit activity - and for no other reason.  The unnecessary optional extras.  Nice, quite possibly, but 100% optional.


What could be controversial about such a nice gesture? 


First up is the funding question.  As volunteers, we should not be out of pocket for our Guiding hobby – so no expenses should ever come out of our own pockets, and the unit accounts should reflect the full cost of running the unit with all the expenses included (however minor).  So legally, anything you donate to the unit must be listed in the unit accounts as a donation, it should never be ‘off the record’.  The other aspect is that you, personally, may currently be in a position to fund gifts to the girls, and you may choose to do so.  But if you start such a custom, then you are setting a precedent for the years to come, and an expectation that the girls and their folks will then automatically expect presents every time.  What might that mean if your circumstances change, or for whoever succeeds you as unit Leader, whose financial circumstances may be quite different to yours?  They may be in the embarrassing position of ‘just managing’ financially, but be in no position to buy unnecessary extras for other people’s children without a second thought.  And what if we use the unit funds for presents instead?  Well, we are an educational charity, and the unit’s funds are donated (by the parents and potentially by others) specifically to support Guiding’s educational aims.  Books and resources for activities are easily justifiable as contributing to those educational aims, as is the hall rent, the games and craft equipment we will use for the unit’s educational activities, minor prizes for competitions used to promote fair play and good sportsmanship amongst the girls, and badges which the girls have earned by learning new and useful skills – yes, all of that can be justified as legitimate expenditure on educational activity.  But – would all of the parents be happy for the unit funds they have raised to be spent on things which were purely gifts, issued to all without anything particular or specific done to earn them?  Not necessarily.  Even if the presents themselves were practical ones.


Next is scale.  At what point does a token gesture (something costing less than £1 per head, perhaps twice a year) actually start to add up to quite a bit in terms of amount spent, size of present given, frequency of gifting?  Even something which is only £1 – becomes £1 x 24 or more dependent on the size of the unit . . . potentially multiplied by several times per year . . . and starts to become a very significant sum indeed . . .


Then there is expectation.  If it becomes a custom that these gifts are given, and the girls start to expect them – then do they continue to actually be a treat or surprise, are they still seen as something special?  Or do they risk becoming merely ‘the usual’, something taken for granted, something only noticed if absent (or perhaps not even then)?  As you’re handing them over, are the girls thrilled with enthusiasm at what they are getting - or is there just a row of hands held out to receive whatever it happens to be, with few mumbling thanks, and some barely noticing what they are getting at all?  Are badges prized if the girls do not have to do anything in particular to earn them – or even aren’t sure what they are for?  Or is it only the ones which involved hard work over a period of time before they were earned?  Two weeks after getting them, can the girls remember what the badge was for, or what they did to earn it?  Did they take care to put it in a safe place, or is it already mislaid or forgotten about?


Of course, then comes the ‘Joneses’ question.  If your unit is one of several units in the area, but is known to be ‘the one which gives the presents’ does that attract girls to your unit solely or mainly for that reason, at the expense of other units?  Or does it put pressure on other units to find money for presents too, even if that might have to be at the expense of trimming their programmes?  We can’t always change what we do solely because of consideration for the neighbouring units, and in many circumstances shouldn’t - but we can pause to give them some thought when reaching decisions , especially if neighbouring units to us are in less well-off areas – we don’t always have to act “The Joneses” - even if we can.


Finally, there are the ‘principle’ questions.  One of the key principles of Guiding is ‘thinking of others before ourselves’.  So our focus in our unit activities is normally on giving to others, and we were long encouraged to do extra good turns for others at times like Easter and Christmas, in a sense to almost to make up for all the things we would soon be receiving.  If our focus is meant to be on encouraging the girls to be putting others and their thoughts/feelings first, and learning the pleasure of giving rather than receiving, does it not smack a bit of “don’t do as I do, do as I say” if it’s regularly ‘presents for ourselves’ time again?

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Launching The New Programme - or 1966-68 all over again?

Although it will affect my units as much as it will anyone else’s, as someone who has been through a section’s programme change more than once, it is interesting to sit back and watch the reactions of other people to the new programme each time more details are released.


Anyone who has studied ‘change management’ would find that every textbook reaction has been present.  There are people who are ‘immediately anti’ all suggested changes, often asking why it can’t be left alone, or suggesting the founders would have opposed the idea of change (on no evidence).  I’ve seen the content of the handbooks rubbished, and the price declared excessive – even though no information has yet been given on what size the handbooks will be, nor what they will contain (they are, after all, currently being written).  We also have people saying ‘it won’t work for my unit’ – despite not having a clear idea of what ‘it’ will be or how much flexibility it will have (and equally, judging only by their unit’s current membership/situation, which may change in future).


If we want parallels, we could do worse than look back to 1966-68.  That was the last time Guiding changed all the section programmes radically and simultaneously.  And interestingly – it happened just over 50 years after Guiding started – and this current set of changes is happening exactly 50 years after that.  (Sure, there have been radical changes to the individual Sections’ programmes in-between, but only one Section at a time, not all in one go).  At that time they changed the uniforms, the Promise and the programmes for each section – radically.  So what insights are there from the 1966-68 experience?


Well, let’s start with the youngest section.  In this case not Rainbows, because they did not exist in the 1960s, thus Brownies.  They had a programme of fixed tests which every Brownie in the UK had to tackle – Tenderfoot (the work new recruits did pre-Promise), and Golden Bar (a set list of challenges, all of which had to be fully completed as written to earn the badge).  Once a Brownie had gained Golden Bar, the original next step was to work for the highest Brownie award, Golden Hand.  It was only once you had gained Golden Hand that you were permitted to work on Proficiency Badges – and only if you gained Golden Hand before your eleventh birthday would you earn the ‘Brownie Wings’ badge which allowed you to ‘fly up’ to Guides – if you didn’t gain it by that deadline you couldn’t do Interest Badges, and you would ‘walk up’ to Guides without a wings badge to put on your Guide uniform.  Because a significant proportion of girls weren’t achieving Golden Hand, it meant that they automatically earned nothing beyond Golden Bar - so in the 1950s an intermediate award, ‘Golden Ladder’ was introduced, to reward those who achieved certain Golden Hand clauses – and Brownies with Golden Ladder were permitted to gain a limited number of Proficiency Badges only.  In reality, most Brownies completed Golden Hand just before ‘flying up’ to Guides, so few Brownies gained many Proficiency badges at all for want of time, even where they had the ability to pass the tests.


In 1968 the Brownie programme was altered so that there would be a challenge to work towards for each of the three years they would be in the Brownie unit – these challenges were called ‘journeys’, with the first being named ‘Footpath’, the second ‘Road’, and the third ‘Highway’.  There were eight topic sections to complete for each one, with each journey being designed to take around 12 months to complete.  Brownies could also work on Interest Badges immediately after they had gained their Promise, practicing them at home, then being assessed by an independent tester.  For each of the journey topics there was a choice of set challenges plus the option for the Leader to set an alternative challenge designed to be challenging for that particular Brownie, whether harder or easier.  Later the ‘adventure’ programme was introduced, but still with the idea of a badge being gained within each particular timeframe, and of the badges being accessible to all who attended regularly, and participated in unit activities.


The pre-1966 Guide programme had similarities to the Brownie one – they too had had a Tenderfoot challenge for new recruits; once they had made their Promise the Guides worked for Second Class badge, and then for First Class.  Despite the encouragement in the handbook that no Guide should be satisfied to remain Second Class, the statistics show that most did not progress beyond Second Class – the First Class completion rate tended to hover around the 10-20% rate at most.  Those who achieved First Class could work for higher awards such as All-Round-Cords.  Guides who held Second Class could work for Proficiency Badges - perhaps this served as an alternative to First Class for those unlikely to attain it?  Most of the teaching for Tenderfoot and Second Class was done by the Patrol Leaders, ideally as part of practical Patrol activities, with only final assessment being done by the Guiders.  From 1946 onwards there was also the ‘highest award’ – “Queen’s Guide”.


Post-1968, the Guides, like the Brownies, had annual badges to work for.  These were initially coloured Trefoils – yellow, green, red and then blue.  Again, there were eight topic sections to complete for each one, and the handbook provided suggestions for challenges, but again allowed the Leader to set a personal challenge instead of these.  This did, however, mean that there weren’t set topics for Patrol Leaders to teach or Patrols to include in their programmes.  The highest reward remained Queen’s Guide until 1983 (when Queen’s Guide was moved to become a Senior Section award, and Baden-Powell award introduced in it’s place).  As with Brownies, proficiency badges could now be earned immediately after Tenderfoot completion.  Later the Trefoils were replaced by the current annual Challenge Badges, but the aim remained that the majority of individuals would complete them at regular intervals by taking part in the regular unit programme.


For Rangers, pre-1968 the ‘Senior Branch’ as it was known, consisted eventually of 4 separate sections.  The biggest grouping were the Land Rangers, then Sea Rangers, and the smallest group, Air Rangers.  The fourth group were the Cadets, who were training with the aim of becoming Leaders.  Each of these groups wore a different uniform to each other, and followed a different programme, but in essence they too had Tenderfoot challenges, then worked on a general challenge which could be compared to a Second-class type badge, and then on specialist certificates or awards related to their section.  The Sea Rangers focussed on practical boating and sailing theory, weather, astronomy, navigation, trade, cargoes, and sea lore – and the Air Rangers on aviation knowledge, aircraft design, weather, astronomy, navigation and trade.  Land Rangers focussed on the land-based activities – outdoors adventure on the land, service in the community, etc.  Cadets were focussed on leadership training and worked in Brownie or Guide units, as well as belonging to a Cadet Company.  Each was essentially a separate section within Senior Branch.


In 1968, Land Rangers, Sea Rangers, Air Rangers and Cadets were all abolished.  In their place came the “Ranger Guide Service Section”.  Ranger Guide Service Section Units now had to follow a generalist programme, built around eight subject sections, and with ‘Service Stars’ to earn.  Whilst units could continue to take an interest in nautical or aviation activities, this had to be as a sideline part of their programme, and not as a main or sole focus.  (As a result, in some areas breakaway Sea Ranger groups emerged, some of which still exist).  In 1973, the Young Leader Scheme was launched – perhaps a suggestion that closing down Cadets had been hasty?


So pre-1968, each section had set challenges which were the same for every member in the country, meaning they all learned the same skills.  Although all gained their tenderfoot and most gained their Golden Bar/Second Class, and the majority would then go on to gain Golden Hand/First Class, in reality significant numbers of Brownies did not gain Golden Hand, and the majority of Guides did not gain First Class.  Post 1968 there was more flexibility in the challenges, such that most members gained their annual badge mainly through participating in the regular unit programme.  But there were higher awards for the older sections (Queen’s Guide, Baden-Powell Award, Duke of Edinburgh Award, Commonwealth Award) for the ‘high flyers’. 


The 1966-68 changes were preceded by a written report produced by a working group, entitled “Tomorrow’s Guide”.  They had made many proposals, each of which was considered in the creation of the revised programme.  There was a national ‘launch day’ upon which the handbooks for every member were to be delivered in locally-arranged special ceremonies.  (Unfortunately, it appears there were last minute delays, meaning that in some areas the books did not arrive in time for the ceremonies, a source of much complaint in the next issue of “The Guider” magazine . . .


Of the programme changes themselves, in looking at magazines from the era, the group most upset by the changes is clearly the Senior Branch.  There were bits and pieces of objection to the loss of fixed tests from the Brownie and Guide sections, with Leaders concerned about what would replace them and how it could be managed at meetings, and some uniform change objections, but in general these complaints were comparatively mild, and balanced by those who were positive about having more flexibility, and there being potential achievements which were attainable for those who were not natural ‘Golden Hand/First Class Candidates’. Overall, those who took the time to write to the magazine expressing pleasure or satisfaction with the new Brownie and Guide programmes seemed to balance or outnumber the objections regarding those sections. That was not the case for Senior Branch, with many Leaders convinced that the loss of the air and sea specialisms would spell the overnight permanent death of both their unit, and potentially of the Section itself.  The loss of Cadets would see Leader recruitment plummet.  Breakaways were threatened – a few of which came to pass, with the formation of the Sea Ranger Association, which still exists in the form of around 15 groups mainly in southern England.


So, then as now, the patient who got the most radical surgery – was the Ranger.  Why the Rangers?  I suspect, numbers and retention.  In Guiding, the one section which has consistently failed to attract the number of members it should, is the Ranger age group.  Dropout rates between Guides and Rangers have always been large, throughout it’s history.  Hence, numerous attempts to tweak or massively reconstruct the Ranger programme in order to make it more attractive, more productive, or whatever the current weakness in it was reckoned to be.  Specialist units like ‘Seas’ did seek to attract the adventure-seekers, but depended for their survival on the unit having access to good sailing facilities and appropriate boats to use upon them during the boating season, Leaders having both the nautical qualifications to run the water activities programme properly and teach the key skills – but just as important, the imagination to keep the unit keen during the winter months when most of the time would be spent on boat maintenance and nautical theory, with little practical sailing/canoeing/rowing feasible for several months depending on weather conditions.  Air Ranger units really needed to have access to regular gliding or flying tuition, so the girls could get the chance to do some actual flying – not just spend months learning the theory and making models. 


There have been times when the idea has been to make the Ranger programme very educational, with proficiency badges, lecture topics, encouraging the unit members to register as a team for voluntary work, etc.  There are times when they have tried to make the programme more leisure-based, encouraging handicrafts and sports and productive pastimes.  There are times when they have tried to focus on awards, challenges, and attainment.  They have tried all of these approaches over the years - and have tended to get broadly similar recruitment and retention results regardless of which approach was being tried!  Within that age group there are some girls who want to achieve – they want to put time and effort into earning high awards, arranging lively programmes of activities, seeking out service projects and international opportunities.  And there are some who want a warm, safe venue to meet up with friends for a coffee, with a simple activity to do whilst they chat.  Only a programme which recognises both types of girl, and caters for them, will stand a chance of attracting the majority of Guides to move up at 14, with the assurance that they will find what they are looking for in Rangers whatever that may be – and will keep a steady flow of them moving up each year, not a clique of pals once every few years . . .


Human beings have a natural, instinctive reaction to change.  And that instinctive reaction is - to resist it.  The familiar things, which they have grumbled about, and picked faults in time and again – are suddenly near-perfect, with no need for any alteration whatsoever, the minute change is threatened - and the new plan being introduced is bound to be a backwards step, ill thought-through, expensive, unnecessary - right up until the time when it has been in place for a year or two, and is starting to be thought of as the norm . . .

Monday, 6 November 2017

Celebrating Festivals


That brings a twofold problem.  If we celebrate a number of these international/multicultural festivals in addition to the UK ones we might regularly mark anyway, rather than instead of – do we risk having a programme which simply lurches straight from one festival to another, with little gap between for other topics to be covered and other skills taught?  Or, are there some traditional festivals which we tend to mark every year, but actually could quite reasonably either mark very briefly, or not at all?  Need we always mark Easter, and Hallowe’en, and Christmas, or devote an entire meeting to any of them - if every other club and school is covering them anyway, not to mention the fact the girls will likely do so at home too in many cases?  Is there something original or different that we do at these traditional festivals or is it just much the same things the girls are doing elsewhere?  (Do they need or want every club for three full weeks before Easter/Christmas to abandon all regular programmes in favour of non-stop craft, food and parties?)  Might the child who doesn’t have both a father and a mother on the scene be glad to get a break from mother’s day/father’s day publicity for an hour or so?)  Can it be a balanced and varied programme if we mark the same festivals every single year, in some cases for several meetingsin a row, in a similar way every year?


And as we consider whether to broaden our unit’s horizons, and help the girls think more internationally and more diversely - we then hit the second big problem - our lack of knowledge about the origin and meaning of some of these international festivals which we might opt to mark.  Which means we do run the risk of making mistakes, and causing offence, through that lack of background knowledge and understanding about the origins of the customs in question.  For the thing is, with the familiar festivals we don’t really have that problem.  We’ve grown up with them around us whether our families did much to mark them or not - so we automatically know which ones can be celebrated in a silly/frivolous way without many people minding ‘children having their fun’ – santas and reindeer, dressing up as St George or the dragon, serving ‘mock haggis and neeps’ whilst wearing bin-bag kilts etc.  But we also know which ones ought to have a more respectful approach, giving thought and consideration to sensitive feelings and beliefs - like Easter, or Remembrance, or hallowe’en.  But when it comes to festivals from other countries or cultures, we may not be so clued up on which ones can be marked in silly ways, and which ones could offer scope for significant  offence if we were to misjudge tone.  In the UK we might make poppy crafts in early November – but we wouldn’t have a ‘poppy party’, and we would be very wary of ‘re-enacting’ a remembrance ceremony with people dressed up in costumes and carrying improvised flags and mock wreaths, wouldn’t we?  And yet – nowhere is it actually written down what is and what is not an appropriate way to teach children about remembrance, so someone in another country or from another culture coming across scanty details about ‘this festival that happens in Britain where the people all wear bright red flowers and take part in big parades through their towns with marching bands and flags’ - could easily misjudge the tone of event, form a mental picture of ‘celebration parade’ rather than ‘sombre procession’.  How easy it would be for such a misinterpretaion to be made . . . 


So before planning to mark a festival with your unit, please, do as much research as possible about the background to both how the people celebrate it, and more importantly, why they celebrate it.  Do not rely on online information from children’s activity sites or from books about worldwide festivals, unless it is also backed up by authoritative sources.  Speak to someone who is actually from the relevant country/culture/religion, to find out not just ‘what the locals do’ but why they do it, what significance or message lies behind the things that are done, what is the atmosphere or mood?  Find out which parts are solemn or very meaningful, and which parts might be taken more lightheartedly.  Would the person from that country/culture/religion think it an appropriate event for the children to mark at all, and if so, how might children from that culture or country mark it – and what would be appropriate or inappropriate for children here to do?


Whatever sort of event you mark or celebrate – please also think cultural appropriateness, not cultural appropriation.  Make sure you stay on the right side of the line between marking and mocking.  Be aware of sensitive cultural traditions, and try to be both authentic and respectful - especially of native or cultural art, music, dance and traditional customs/lore.  Seek to understand and then explain ‘why’ to the children, rather than risk it merely being seen as ‘this weird custom they do in this faraway place for some unknown reason’.  There is lots to learn about the world around us and the range of cultures and belief systems followed by the people who share it - if we approach with an open enquiring attitude, and a desire to learn, understand and appreciate.  But before we can teach the girls, first we must take time to learn the background information for ourselves . . . 


And – keep festivals in their place.  As something we occasionally utilise as an excuse for the educational activities we would like to do to broaden the girls’ horizons.