The early years pilot project
The story of Squirrels
Thanks to funding from The Department of Education and the Mercers Company, in 2019 we ran 29 pilots in England reaching 428 young people and 150 adult volunteers. All of the pilots were in disadvantaged communities and 60% of the families involved had no previous connection to Scouts. 75% of these pilots continued virtually through COVID-19.
The pilots showed that working with younger children opens up new opportunities for adult volunteer recruitment, especially parents. New volunteers also showed an interest in supporting Scouts beyond the pilots and across different roles.
There were three different models (Family-led, Partner-led and Scout-led) that were tested through the pilots to understand the best delivery model, however, they all ran 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.
We engaged 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 four and five year olds.
We also spoke with a random sample of more than 200 volunteers to gather feedback about the opportunities, concerns and support for Scouts for four and five year olds. Of this sample, 80% were in favour of the new section.
There were webinars and consultation events held up and down the country to update members on the pilots and to gather feedback too. We engaged more than 1,400 people.
External research and evaluation
To make sure that we had 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 found that with further development and funding the Scouts for four and five 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 was 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 were 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.
- Therewas enthusiastic support within the movement to extend Scouts to these younger children.
- There were challenges, regarding systems and people, in extending the programme more widely and so any further development would need to be phased, and with continued evaluation to ensure organisational learning continues.
- All three models have strengths and limitations which should be carefully considered.
Express your interest to open a Squirrels provision
If you've decided that you'd like start a new Squirrels provision and have completed the readiness checklist, please complete this form to express your interest. This should be done by Group Scout Leaders and the District Commissioner will then carry out a final review.Ensure you read the readiness checklist before you complete the short form
*NEW* Nights Away - decision and research
Nights away are now included within the Squirrel programme (from January 2023).
This decision has been backed up by a number of pilot nights away events that found that nights away activities were safe or beneficial for this age group. The pilots were across a range of types of nights away, from 1-2 nights, with family members, without family members, indoors, outdoors and district and group camps. Learning concluded that all formats of nights away are appropriate, suitable for young people and adult volunteers and had a positive impact on Squirrels.
Nights Away with Squirrels is completely optional - both for leaders to organise the event, and for young people to attend. It is not a minimum standard like in other sections.
More details and guidance will be developed to support volunteers in the planning and running of a nights away experience for this section. The January 2023 edition of POR was updated to include Squirrel nights away.Read the report
To watch in full screen, double click the video
For more details take a look at the research documentation below, watch the videos, or read the blogs.
- A review of under 8 provision in Scouting (1975)
- A review of under 6 provision in Scouting - Findings (2010)
- A review of under 6 provision in Scouting - Recommendation (2010)
- Early Years – Learning from our history – an overview
- Evaluation of Lion Scouts in USA - Retention of Young People (2017)
- Evaluation of Lion Scouts in USA - Overview (2018)
We chose Squirrels red for the uniform as it’s so closely associated with the red squirrel animal, it’s highly visible to keep children safe, and the bright primary colour appeals to children of all genders. In YouGov testing (Feb 2021) with 1,000 parents of 3-5 year olds, over two thirds (68%) of all parents supported a uniform in Squirrels Red (with only 7% disliking it) 82% of parents supported the colour palette overall, liking red best. 67% of parents from C2DE backgrounds and 65% of those from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds also supported a uniform in Squirrels Red.