Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The new Guiding Programme - how is it doing so far?

The ‘new’ Guiding programme has now been in use in most parts of the country for just over a month, in some parts for longer.  Now that most people have had a very brief chance to experience using it for real, what has the feedback been?

Well, an honest reflection of the online traffic would be, that although a few people who had doubts before trying it remain strongly and vocally negative about it, many more are either only unhappy with one or two specific aspects of it, or are happy with it so far - early days though it is, and despite the lack of actual statistics to back these impressions.

Yes, there are some issues which are regularly referenced – the programme is inflexible.  And for Rainbows in particular, having to do 6 Skill Builders, each with 5 topics, plus 18 hours of UMAs, in two years – means that they have gone from inventing most of their own activities and traditions, to now having to ‘do programme’ most of the time, most weeks, if they are to give their girls a chance of Gold Award.  Girls who join Rainbows at 5 ½ or later will probably not be able to do Gold Award, unless the unit runs extra sessions such as activity days or sleepovers, and the girls have good attendance levels, including the key SB meetings.  For those who join Rainbows later there will be the chance to do some Skill Builders, to do Interest Badges, and to perhaps pick up a theme award or two – but not time for all the SBs.

The other frequently-raised issue is absences – with a Skill Builder only being completed when a girl has done all 5 of it’s activities, the girl who is off on one of the weeks when the unit are doing SB activities will fall behind.  The unit will have to judge how to do catch-ups – whether to have the occasional meeting laid aside where the girls can get into small groups each repeating a specific activity, or whether activities can be sent home, or whether the SB remains incomplete until the next time there is a group doing that SB which she can join in with (though the latter could only be an option for Brownies, Guides and Rangers, not for Rainbows)?

Some Leaders are unhappy that, with the cards supplying most of the activity ideas and the instructions, they now have much less to do at unit meetings - where once they were coming up with all the ideas and then out front leading them, now the ideas are already provided, and the girls to some extent lead themselves, aided by the cards.  Although this is familiar to Guide Leaders from Go For Its, it may be less so with Leaders from the other sections.  Or there are disgruntlements at the need to arrange equipment for activities (whether bought, borrowed or whether the girls bring it in themselves).  Although the activities have been designed to be low cost (doubtless in an attempt to head off complaints on expense grounds), some equipment is, naturally, required – mainly post-its, paper, balloons, plastic bottles etc – which has to be acquired and transported to the meeting place, unless storage allows.  But you can’t do a whole programme with nothing . . .

And the recording on GO is unnecessarily slow and painful, especially for Skill Builders.  It’s nonsensical that we have to log into each girl’s record, then plough through a long list of Skill Builders, at each level, to declare the one she is starting.  And having done that, we have to click away from the page and then click back in order to start logging the first activity she has done.  And if she has done all of them, then it’s not enough to just mark the five activities as complete and assume the system will twig that the entire SB must automatically be complete – no, we have to click away from the page before clicking back into it, and we then have to log in each girl’s record to confirm that the Skill Builder is indeed now complete! 

A general complaint is that ‘one size does not fit all’, Leaders want the right to make up their own activities and count these as UMAs.  Who knows whether Guiding will flex on this anytime soon – whilst I can see the temptation to allow some flexibility, I fear that it wouldn’t be long until some units were doing more ‘own UMA’ than they were ones from the programme, on the ‘give an inch and they’ll take a yard’ principle.  And we’d be back to ‘this week’s festival is’, or ‘craft club’ again.

There are fears that new Leaders will be reliant on cards, and will not know how to think up an activity, plan it, obtain the resources, and lead it unaided. 

So if those are the negatives, what are the positives?  Well, they seem to be: 

Busy Leaders have found the cards really useful, as a grab-and-go resource, with clear equipment lists, instructions already planned, suggestions for extension activities. 

Inexperienced Leaders have found them great too – a lot of the planning already done for them, instructions in a logical order, background on what is being done and why.  Assistant Leaders and Young Leaders who have been nervous of trying to plan and run activities themselves, are now more confident to take a card, read it through, and then lead it with the girls.

Common Standard is being hailed by Commissioners – they reckon that once the new programme is in place, it will be far easier for them to spot those units which need support, because the online recording will show whether units are providing a balanced programme with the girls showing signs of regular progress, etc – and any unit which isn’t regularly doing UMAs and SBs is, automatically, not offering the programme they should, and thus struggling.  Leaders will have to list all the girls in their units in order to credit their records with activities done – even in late February/early March . . . often called ‘census time’ . . .

Common Standard amongst units too.  With so many units doing the same package of activities, units will be working at an appropriate level of difficulty for the age group (neither too advanced nor too babyish) and girls will be getting similar opportunities whichever unit they join – there will be fewer ‘good’ units or ‘poor’ units – they’ll all be up to a particular standard - and this achieved by bringing the struggling units up to a standard, not pulling the achieving units down to ‘lowest common denominator’.

Continuity has also been seen as a positive – in planning transitions, being able to assure the girls that there will be many more things that will be familiar when they get to the next section, and much less that is unfamiliar - helps with encouraging girls to give the next section a try.

The activities themselves have been broadly popular with Leaders and with girls in all sections – there are numerous unsolicited reports of girls enjoying activities (even ones their Leaders feared their girls might not enjoy) and of Leaders finding new ideas or new ways of teaching old skills amongst the selection, or being inspired to add to or extend the activities on the cards.

Most of the activities are both accessible to units urban and rural, and affordable.  Equipment has been kept to a minimum, and is usually either things that can be borrowed (like tents or hand tools) or are inexpensive (like sticky notes, balloons, plastic bottles).  Many units who have started the new programme have reported that they have been spending noticeably less on equipment and resources for unit meetings than they used to, without any corresponding reduction in programme interest or engagement.

As a Guide Leader of a small Guide unit (which has been running the programme since mid-August) – most activities are running significantly shorter than billed, for us.  The other week, in our 90-minute meeting we did 80 minutes of UMA activities (30+30+20) and still found ourselves playing a game for over 20 minutes to fill in time, plus holding Horseshoe at the start and end of the meeting.  On that basis, we won’t be as pressured for time to fit everything in as we thought we might be, and could slacken off on the number of UMAs we do next term, or continue to crack on for now, and be able to spend most of the summer term doing outdoor adventure.  Some of this is numbers-based – with only two groups to demonstrate what they have done, or compete against each other, or whatever, activities naturally take less time than they would for four or 5 groups. 

As a Brownie Leader of a large unit (over 20 members) we are finding that things are running within time, but we do have to keep activities moving, so that girls regularly have something new to be doing and early finishers of a particular stage aren’t hanging around bored whilst waiting for their more deliberate sisters, or those who did not get first shot of the equipment – but the activities usually provide a ‘next thing’.  We haven’t clocked up as many UMAs with the Brownies so far, as we have focussed on this term’s Skill Builder, and have had Monday holidays - but I’m happy that we will be able to clock up enough UMA hours over the three years to allow the chance of Gold Awards for any Brownie who wishes to try for one.

Yes, there are pros and cons.  But then, there were always going to be whatever programme was introduced, it was only a question of which ones they happened to be this time.  And of those reacting to it, some people were always going to be negative due to the natural knee-jerk anti-change reaction which humans have, whatever the programme happened to contain and however it was introduced.  Outwith that instinctive reaction, it appears that many more are either happy with it barring a specific concern, or happy with it overall, than are heavily critical of it. 

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