The above - is a list of things which do not exist in the UK. Yes, all of them. Do not exist. No exceptions.
The first three don’t exist because Guiding’s rules clearly and strictly do not permit them to - and have never done. The latter two haven’t existed for many years (unless proof to the contrary emerges) due to extinction. (And for that matter, outwith Northern Ireland, 4-year-old Rainbows do not exist either). Oh yes, no matter how close to being 10 a girl might happen to be, she cannot be and is not a Guide, not until she reaches double figures. And no Unit Leader or District Commissioner has the authority to permit otherwise.
(Yes, if there are no other realistic alternative childcare options available, then children of staff of whatever age or gender may visit Guiding meetings – but they are there as visitors and solely as children-of-staff, they are not there as unit members or helpers, and they would only join in with some unit activities where appropriate, having other occupations for the rest of the time they are in the meeting room. Yes, that applies to all of them, even if they happen to be girls aged 6 years, 11 months, or 9 years 11 months . . .).
So why can’t 9 year old Guides exist? Why can’t we just let a 6-year old into Brownies if it happens to suit us, or them (or perhaps even all parties)? Why can’t our mature 13 year old join Senior Section with her older pals instead of having to wait? Why the restrictions on 3 or 4 year olds joining Rainbows? Why does letting a group of pals move on together mean they all have to wait until the youngest of them is old enough, even if that is some months after the others could have moved? Why can’t we let a girl who has outgrown her current uniform wear the next one early, rather than have her squeeze into the uniform or wear plain clothes for the last few weeks or months? Is it down to plain meanness, that girls are being selfishly denied the chance to join a club their older friends are already in, regardless of individual maturity, family circumstances, or any other factors they might plead? Is having an age limit not discrimination, not unfair, not illegal, not plain wrong? Is it not ridiculous?
Actually, no, the lower age limit for each section is based not on selfishness or lack of care for the individual, but upon sound factual reasoning.
Guiding has spent a lot of time considering what the right age group and age range for each section should be, and studying educational theory and child development in order to ensure the programmes of each section provide the right level of challenge for all in a progressive educational package, tailored to the needs of the individuals. So for Rainbows, from 4/5 to 7. For Brownies, from 7 through to 10. For Guides, from 10 through to 14. For Senior Section, from 14 through to turning 26. Each section’s programme has been carefully designed to last for the appropriate number of years, and provide on-going challenge to each individual who falls within the ranges of maturity and intellect expected within the given age group, throughout the duration of her time in that section. And although there is a minimum age for joining the sections, there is also scope to stay up to 26 in each one, if that is what is appropriate for the individual, intended to allow for those whose developmental age is behind their biological age. The aim is always to ensure that each individual can move on to the next section when they personally are ready to do so, whether that is shortly after reaching the minimum age, or some months (or even years) afterwards. Regardless of whether they are the only one to move on at that time, or whether a group are ready at the same time – and that is how it should be managed. There is, however, no flexibility on the lower age limit of sections, because the programme of each section is designed to provide on-going challenge to even the most mature individuals within that given age range. So girls shouldn’t be starting to outgrow a section until they are almost old enough to join the next one anyway, with only a few weeks to wait. If outgrowing is happening in the unit in more than the very occasional short-term case of an ultra-mature girl, then the unit may wish to consider reviewing their programmes, to judge whether they are really still giving enough responsibility and challenge to their older members, or whether there is scope to offer more responsibility, and raise the expectations. For the answer lies in dealing with the problem at it’s source, and in making any necessary adjustments to the unit’s programmes to ensure it still provides a challenge for all the girls it should - not be seeking to send girls into the next section underage in order to pass the problem onto them, to add to their workload. On the other hand – once a girl has spent the appropriate number of years in a section, she should be starting to want to move on to greater adventures and challenges anyway, it’s all a natural part of growing up and maturing – and if she isn’t, that can be a cause for concern too. It’s important that we as Leaders take the right attitude - when a girl moves onto the next section we aren’t ‘losing’ them, and we should be careful not to be clingy, or hold onto them because it suits us – our raison d’etre as Leaders is to prepare girls for the next section, so each girl who is starting to outgrow our activities at around the age for moving on - is actually one of our success stories, and those who want to stay on longer in the unit may even be our failures. There should be very few 8-year-old Rainbows, 11-year-old Brownies or 15-year-old Guides around the country . . . and in each case, the Commissioner should be aware of them, and of the special circumstances for giving that individual a special exemption to still be in their current section.
The second reason is a practical one – having said that the unit’s programme should simultaneously provide challenge for the full range of age and maturity in the age range it covers, what age range can a unit reasonably serve, to keep the girls across it’s full age range learning and progressing and facing new challenges? The experts are agreed that a 2-year age span for Rainbows, a 3-year span for Brownies, a 4-year span for Guides and a 12 year span for Senior Section is as large a range as could be managed and still achieve this challenge and progression, given the range of different maturity levels across each of these stages. So Guiding’s age ranges are based on these findings. Not just selfishness, or unfairness, but a factual base.
To be honest, the minimum ages for the sections - is one of the clearest rules in the manual. Many of Guidings’s rules are vague or flexible, or can be open to more than one interpretation if you hunt for loopholes hard enough, but this one is clear and unambiguous – the minimum age for each section is 4/5, 7, 10, 14. Statement of fact, and no exceptions offered. And as girls automatically become members of a section at their second regular attendance, it is therefore clear that they must have reached that minimum age by their second meeting. So that gives an absolute maximum of 13 days’ grace, and no more.
And yet. In spite of that clarity and lack of scope for confusion, some people still want to argue about the rule. They vainly hunt for exceptions that don’t exist. They want to ‘bend’ or ‘stretch’ (which if we’re honest, just means break) the rule ‘just this once’. Who want ‘their Flossie’ to be treated as a special case – despite in many cases offering reasons that are not particularly special at all. The most common reason given is ‘the rest of her school class will be joining and she’ll be the odd one out’. As if school classes have anything to do with anything other than school! Well, it may sound harsh, but my answer is ‘yes, maybe her friends will all get the chance to join first, that has doubtless already happened to Flossie a few times in her life if all her friends happen to be older than her, and it will happen to her many times in the future. It happened when she moved between rooms in nursery, it happened when she joined Rainbows, it happened when she joined Brownies, and it will happen when she joins Guides. If she’s the one who is youngest in her group of pals, then she’ll also be the last to learn to drive, the last to be old enough to drink alcohol in pubs, among the last to reach school leaving age, the last to get the vote, the last to get her state pension, the last for all sorts of things in life which have age limits attached to them. At some point Flossie is going to have to learn to cope with the fact that there will be many things her older friends will get to do before she does. Given that, is now too soon for her to start learning to cope with it? Do we do her any favours by putting that day off? Somebody has to be the youngest in every friendship group, just as somebody has to be the oldest. It could be reckoned a positive that she gets to enjoy a few more months in her current section, and has the chance of the adventures/special events which those who have already left the unit will miss out on. We could equally well ask, is it fair that someone has to be the first in a friendship group to move to a new section? Or do we just accept that the oldest one in a group will always have to cope with being the one to do things first, sometimes to her benefit and sometimes not? The other reason commonly given is “if she doesn’t get to move up with her pals she’ll leave”. For the sake of waiting a few months longer? Is her enthusiasm for Guiding so flimsy that that, and that alone, would make her leave Guiding and never come back, that even a few months would be the one thing to put her off, regardless of how much she enjoys every other aspect of her Guiding experience? Or would it be more honest to admit that she was halfway out of the door anyway?
And how much pressure would we get to accept even more ‘one-offs’ and ‘special cases’ of an ever younger age into each section, it we allowed the rule to be flexed a little? If, for example, we said girls could join Brownies at 6 years 11 months, would we not then have people arguing that their 6 years 10 months girls were especially mature for their age, and for the sake of a week or two shouldn’t be held back . . . ? And if we were to flex the lower age limit, what effect would that have on the older girls in each section? It’s already hard enough for Leaders to find activities which simultaneously challenge the immature just-7 year olds and the very mature almost-10s, or the nervous just-10s and the extra-mature thirteen year olds – if the ranges were extended still further, it would go from difficult to near impossible. As it is, a lot of older girls in units already find the younger ones trying at times, would that not be exacerbated if still-younger girls joined? Some 6-year-olds will struggle with the lively games the Brownies like to play (after all, some shy 7-year olds already do). Some 9-year-olds would struggle with the Guide meetings finishing at or after 9pm, being used to earlier bedtimes than that – some 10-year-olds already take a few weeks to adjust. Senior Section already covers a vast range of life-stages, from high school students working on their exams, FE students and those starting jobs, through those starting long-term relationships and those having children - without extending the range even further into the early years of high school.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t be throwing girls out of their units the day they turn 7, 10, or 14. There should be a transition, with preparation starting well before the girls reach that minimum age, so that they see moving to the next section as the natural and near-automatic thing it should be, with regular mention of the next unit and the opportunities it offers along the lines of “when you are a Brownie you’ll get to . . .”, and preparation work done in their unit (if possible using the official transition packs) as the girl approaches the minimum age, and planning of just when the girl wants to make her move, whether she is moving on to a local unit, or is being registered with the Country/Region Lones unit. Through visits, joint events, and Leaders regularly letting their older girls know about the next section and what they do, moving to the next section should not be a leap into the unknown, but something which is looked forward to with excitement as well as a modest but natural quantity of nerves. Sure, some girls will be more confident than others, but most girls are ready to move on sometime within 6 months of reaching the minimum age. We should do all we can to ensure that each girl moves on at the time that is right for her, with what is best for the girl always coming first. Units should not be reluctant to let go of their older girls either . . . Of course waiting lists and lack of spaces is a factor, nevertheless what’s best for the girl should come before our own love of capable Sixers/Patrol Leaders, or indeed our longing to move on those girls who are starting to involve themselves in low-level disruption . . .
We all seem to be agreed that a line has to be drawn somewhere, dividing Guiding into sections. We can discuss long and hard whether 4/5, 7, 10, 14 and 26 are the right places for those lines to be drawn, and I’m sure there would be a range of opinion on whether Guiding currently gets it right or not in the placing of these lines, and how much crossover there should be for the majority of cases – but can we agree that there does need to be some sort of dividing line between the sections, and that wherever we end up drawing them, we can’t then allow exceptions to the dividing lines to be made, else why have sections at all?