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Early Years

Exploring Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds

COVID-19 update: Face to face pilot activity has now been suspended. We’re working with the volunteers to provide programme materials and support to continue to deliver a quality programme using online technology.


We want to reach young people who could benefit most from Scouts and research suggests that the earlier a young person accesses non-formal education, the more positive the impact on their prospects.

Around the world there are various models of Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds, such as Meerkats in South Africa, Lions in the US and Family Scouting in Denmark. Here in the UK, Squirrels has been operating alongside Scouting in Northern Ireland for many years. All have shared positive feedback about this section.

By exploring Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds as a potential new provision, we can introduce Scouts to new young people and potentially new adult volunteers who we currently don't engage with. But we need to understand if Scouting for this age group is possible and desirable, or not.

This page contains the latest information about our pilots, research and the next steps for the project.

Our focus

Thanks to funding from The Department of Education and the Mercers Company, 29 pilots have been running in England reaching 428 young people and 150 adult volunteers. All of the existing pilots are in disadvantaged communities and 60% of the families involved have no previous connection to Scouts.

The pilots have shown that working with younger children opens up new opportunities for adult volunteer recruitment, especially parents. New volunteers have also shown an interest in supporting Scouts beyond the pilots and across different roles.

There are three different models (Family-led, Partner-led and Scout-led) that’ve been tested through the pilots to understand the best delivery model, however, they’re all running the same programme that combines the best of Scouts with what we know about the needs of young children.

Working with Action for Children, 52 weeks’ worth of programme materials were created and provided in an ‘off-the-shelf’ format to a team of adults to run the section pilots. Check out our blog to find out more about the early years programme

Volunteer engagement

We’ve been engaging with District and County Commissioners in the pilot areas, through consultation events, interviews and the programme board, to understand the best approaches for rolling out Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds if it were to go ahead.

We’ve also spoken with a random sample of more than 200 volunteers to gather feedback about the opportunities, concerns and support for Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds. Of this sample, there’s currently 80% in favour of Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds.

There’s been webinars and consultation events held up and down the country to update members on the pilots and gather feedback too. To date, we’ve engaged more than 1,400 people.

External research and evaluation

To make sure that we have an independent, expert analysis of the pilots, the Centre for Research and Education (CREC) were engaged to answer these questions:

  • Do we develop young people from all backgrounds?
  • Would we have a programme that feels like Scouts, is respected by external experts, and is appropriate for 4 and 5 year olds?
  • Can we attract young people and new adult volunteers, does the movement support the concept and can we resource delivery locally and nationally?

They’ve found that with further development and funding the Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds project has potential to:

  • Improve outcomes for young people and increase the impact of Scouts on society
  • Increase the numbers of young people joining Scouts
  • Increase the number of young people joining Scouts from currently underrepresented backgrounds
  • Increase recruitment and retention of adult volunteers.

They also found:

  • The pilot programme is of high quality and meets the developmental needs of young children extremely well.
  • The pilot has been successful in recruiting a pool of both new and existing volunteers who wish to work with younger children and a new pool of female volunteers is being drawn in through the early years’ project. Whilst 75% of volunteers are female and only 25% are male, this is still a 5% improvement on the typical percentage of males that work in the early years’ environment.
  • There’s enthusiastic support within the movement to extend Scouts to these younger children. 


  • There are challenges, regarding systems and people, in extending the programme more widely and so any further development should be phased, and with continued evaluation to ensure organisational learning continues.
  • All three models have strengths and limitations which should be carefully considered.

The full report from CREC is available to read here

What’s next?

We’ll gather the final rounds of feedback from the pilots and we’ll also be talking with managers. We want to find out about interest levels and what resources would be needed if Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds were to go ahead.

The Board of Trustees will make an evidence-based decision about whether a new early years provision is right for Scouts this summer. They’ll consider the CREC report, all additional ongoing research, as well as feedback from the movement when making their decision. If you have any final comments for consideration by the Board, make sure you let us know

Volunteer actions

  • Do not start Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds locally. Unofficial provision is against our rules and is not insured, NI Squirrels is not affected.
  • Tell us what you think about Scouts for 4 and 5 year olds before the decision this Summer
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Dramatic growth happens between 3 and 6, this is why we're researching into Scouts for four and five year olds

Further reading

For more information, take a look at the documents below.

What we've learnt

As part of our consultation with members, we've held a couple webinars to share the results from the pilots, what we're recommending to the Board of Trustees and answer questions. 

Watch the webinar >

Meet the board

The Early Years Programme Board is made up of a mixture of staff and volunteers. They’re guiding the programme to ensure that the Board of Trustees can make an informed decision.

  • Andrew Bollington, Programme Sponsor
  • Liam Burns, Senior Responsible Owner, Chief Programme Officer
  • Alan Hands, Programme Delivery Manager
  • Niall Pettitt, Volunteer Head of Curriculum
  • Andrew Lloyd, County Commissioner
  • Rob Pimblett, District Commissioner
  • Donna Bennett, Head of Volunteering
  • Jacqui Berryman, Beaver Section Leader (+ NI Squirrel Association)
  • Marjorie Guiler, Northern Ireland Squirrel Association
  • Rebecca Dowds, Youth Commissioner
  • Barbara Edgar, Country Assistant Commissioner (Beaver Scouts)