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 . . .