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The early years pilot project

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

Thanks to funding from The Department of Education and the Mercers Company, we've been running 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 have continued virtually through COVID-19. 

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-ledPartner-led and Scout-led) that’ve been 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

Volunteer engagement

We’ve 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’ve also spoken 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’s been 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 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.

Read the full report from CREC.

Further information

For more details take a look at the research documentation below, watch the videos, or read the blogs. 

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 would be recommending to the Board of Trustees and to answer member questions. 

Watch the webinar >