For the second time in a week, the UK Scouts have made the news. Last week, they announced the publication of new (and excellent, in my opinion) sexual health materials. Today, they have let the world know that, for the first time in the Movement’s history, more girls have joined in the last year than boys. Gosh. Or as the BBC have commented, “Ging, gang, golly!”
I am not surprised. Scouting in the UK is transforming itself into one of the most relevant providers of youth work in the country today. Good Scout Groups, and there are many of them, offer intellectual, social, physical and spiritual adventure to a generation that is starved of such stimulation elsewhere. In a world where kids are wrapped in cotton wool by parents and teachers, Scouting still allows young people to take risks. Girls need this as much as boys. And whilst Girl Guiding still offers a “boy free” space for this, I suspect that Scouting’s co-educational offer feels more natural to a society that has, for the most part, eschewed single sex education.
But with this growth in mixed membership comes responsibility. I remember that when the Scouts first admitted girls to all sections, there was a feeling that only girls who were “surrogate boys” would want to join. This was soon proved to be nonsense. But I am not convinced that all Scout Groups offer a range of activities that can genuinely serve the needs of all the youngsters that would benefit from Scouting. There’s still, in some quarters, an attitude of “we’ll let the girls in, but only on our terms…”
The best co-educatIonal youth work recognises that boys amd girls, particularly in adolescence, do sometimes need single sex activity. I am still proud of the activities I ran for Venture Scouts (now, that dates me) when we ran two parallel three week courses in motorcycle maintenance and cooking. We split the boys and girls up. Beveryone did both courses, but in single sex groups – and mastered basic skills without being intimidated by those who, stereotypically, would have felt a need to impose their ‘expertise’ on others.
In the Netherlands, where Scouting merged with Guiding in the 1970s, many Scout Groups still keep single sex patrols (and even Troops) for 11 a 14 year olds. Otherwise, as I have been told by many leaders there, the girls would win everything.
I’m delighted that more girls are joining the Scouts. But let’s now work even harder to ensure that the range if activities provided suits the whole range of young people that Scouting seeks to serve. And let’s look forward to seeing the first UK female Chief Scout. Could Bear’s successor be a Tammy or an Ellen?