Well, after all the build-up and fanfare, the new programmes have arrived. And after a week of online firefighting against the instant critics, and trying to explain to the confused, I guess it’s time I gave my verdict on them.
So, what were the things people were asking for beforehand?
· Interest badges for Rainbows and Rangers
· Pick-up-and-go activities
· A ‘highest award’ for each section
· Proper structure and progression for programmes
· Smoother transition between sections
Yes, those are things people were asking for, and they have got them. The new programme has a clear structure, there is continuity between sections, Rainbows and Rangers have the same opportunities as the sections in-between, and there are highest awards for each section. And the Skills Builders and Unit Meeting Activities do indeed provide pick-up-and-go activities which will be helpful for the inexperienced and the time-poor alike.
Have the programmes been universally welcomed? Of course not. But then, they were never going to be. Change always attracts criticism regardless of the form it takes, and whether or not it is for the better.
Although we now have all the books and resources, the online training and the online recording tools, there isn’t a single unit in the UK which has yet had a chance to see how the programme works in reality. And until the first Scottish units start going back in mid-August, then apart from the few year-round units which operate, nobody can honestly say how it is or will be in reality. All they can express is their hopes or fears.
Ah, but what is my opinion? My opinion is that, at first, going back to set tasks will cause upset. We’ve already got people campaigning to be able to use their own ideas instead of the Unit Meeting Activities (yes, without trying them). We’ve already got people saying the girls will never do interest badges if they’ve to work on them at home (despite the fact it worked in the past, over many decades). We’ve already got people saying they can’t teach camp skills, so it’s not fair they are one of the (non-compulsory) topics covered in the programme. And we've got people saying they haven't time to watch the online training videos (although they're the same people who have got time to spend on social media criticising the programme instead).
My opinion is that one big thing the new programme will be great for is consistency. Girls will move through sections learning the same basic skills, and progressing in them year by year. It will also help to pinpoint failing units – in the past, there were a proportion of units which didn’t use the official programmes but claimed they were still able to offer ‘Good Guiding’. And sure enough, some could. Problem was, many others used that claim as an excuse whilst actually delivering repetitive, uninspired programmes, often ones where all the girls did the exact same activity all the time regardless of maturity or capability. Under this new programme, things are clearly set down. The unit whose girls regularly complete Unit Meeting Activities and Skills Builders will show signs of making good progress. The unit where all the girls do the exact same one at the same level (they’re all equally mature, and nobody was off sick the week it was done – again!) will stick out sore thumbishly. It will improve the standard of Guiding for all.
Is the structure quite rigid and inflexible? Yes, currently it is. But as more UMAs become available (we’re told there will be another batch in January, and further ones thereafter), there will be a bit more flexibility.
But – no-one can truly criticise or praise the programme until at least January 2019. Only once units have a full term’s experience of how it actually works with the girls in the units, countrywide, can any fair conclusions be reached. Anything said right now is mere speculation.