Be prepared: Scouts in school

Written by: Sean Woolley | Published:
Photo: iStock

Oasis Academy Nunsthorpe has decided to give over an afternoon a week to Beavers and Cubs. Vice-principal Sean Woolley explains why

Over the coming months, our academy will undertake a new challenge. It will have a significant impact on our students, parents, staff and wider community. We have made the decision to give the whole of Friday afternoons over to scouting, specifically Beavers and Cubs.

"How and why?" you ask. "The curriculum is full enough, surely you can't afford to take more time out? What about Ofsted?" These are questions in our minds, but we have a very clear case for this decision and how it will significantly benefit everyone involved with it.

Our context is challenging. We are a coastal primary school of around 600 students that serves a deprived area. Some families are now into second and third generation without long-term employment. Industry has declined and the area is contained by a pincer movement from the River Humber, the North Sea and miles and miles of fields. Around 75 per cent of students are eligible for "Ever6" free school meals, less than one per cent of the school is known to have a first language other than English, and only two per cent are from ethnic minorities.

The community has very little diversity and students have limited experiences or knowledge about how the community is part of wider society. They find it difficult to work together, they struggle to know how to play and have very little imagination.

I guess that all of this could be used as an excuse for underachievement, for apathy and for giving up. But we aren't giving up. Instead we are seeing this as a massive opportunity to make a difference for individual students and for the community.

A recent survey showed that 79 per cent of people saw scouting as providing healthy activities for young people; and it has been ranked as the UK's second most empowering charity and the country's most practical charity. Its purpose is to "engage, support and develop young people, empowering them to make a positive contribution to society".

Scouting has very clear values: integrity, respect and the inclusion of others, care, belief in all faiths and spiritualities, and co-operation. Such values help students to take responsibility and make the right choices, and they chime with our own. Both our academy and the scouting movement want to instil young people with confidence, passion, a spirit for adventure and a belief in themselves. This also reflects the values of Future Leaders, the headship development programme I joined in 2014.

"But what about curriculum coverage? Scouting is not mentioned anywhere, so what are you going to drop?" The answer is nothing. We are just covering everything in a different way. Indeed, we think that so much of the curriculum will be covered during Friday afternoons that we will have more time in our actual curriculum for more in-depth work.

Scouting will cover so much and we will do it via working on the many different badges. We will look at the points of the compass and using map references for the Navigator badge to help them learn about foreign countries, and investigate how the rest of the world impacts on our life and community in the Cultural badge. This will continue in the Scientist badge, the Swimmer badge and the Explorer badge. All of this learning will enhance the rest of their work on the curriculum, and mean that teachers and students will find it far easier to link learning to life.

We will work to create a strong school community by placing students in vertical groups, with each group divided into Lodges for Beavers or Sixes for Cubs, and each led by a Lodge Leader or Sixer. They will learn to work together as a team, becoming more resourceful as they undertake regular team challenges and indoor and outdoor games.

The leaders of the Lodges and Packs will be chosen on their leadership qualities, providing responsibility and achievement for students away from what would normally be seen as academic success. This will develop self-esteem – students who may not be the most academically successful will be able to show a real aptitude in this area.

Staff will work with the students on a whole new level, seeing past classroom behaviour and interacting with students in a new environment.

We will stop being Mr or Miss and become Akela and Baloo. Staff will know that "naughty child" for a different reason and have something to talk to them about that will really engage them, meaning better relationships between staff and students in lessons and in the playground at break and lunch times.

We want to see students learn how to play together and work with each other too. They will get used to supporting each other through Cubs and Beavers and this will become second nature to them, leading to fewer incidents of falling out and disruption.

Our students' also have very few experiences outside of their own estate. Getting involved in a worldwide organisation with the opportunity to attend Jamborees where they can meet other Cubs and Beavers will help us to address the need within our community to develop diversity and tolerance.

So we are building character too. Every child at our academy will be developed and challenged and all students will have a clear chance to excel at some point during the week. Scouting opportunities outside of school will be offered to all of our students without any cost to them, ensuring that they don't miss out on important opportunities and that when our students move up to high school they will have a range of skills which will give them confidence.

That is what we hope will happen, but we are seeing change already in the way that students are talking about scouts:

  • "I can't wait to do camping, learn how to make camp fires and climb. I love doing dangerous stuff, but it will be really good to learn how to do it safely."
  • "I have always dreaded learning to cook because I think I will burn everything, so I can't wait to do the cooking badge where real chefs will teach us how to do it."
  • "I want to do the animal care badge as I have lots of animals at home and want to learn how to look after them properly."

And that goes for staff too. I am starting with the Science badge – we are going to make coke bottle rockets, paper helicopters, five-minute ice cream and investigating air pressure and gravity. I have then taught half of my science over the term. The students will love it.

We believe the impact that this project will have is beyond compare and that the risks and challenges are going to be worth the reward. And what about Ofsted? If this plan has the impact we are hoping for, then inspectors will describe independent, engaged learners who can manage their own learning and behaviour while supporting others. They will talk about a group of students who know about diversity, targets and challenges, inspirational leadership at all levels, and students who are making excellent progress.

And until then? We will ask students to do their best and we will do our best as well.

  • Sean Woolley is vice-principal at Oasis Academy Nunsthorpe in Grimsby and is part of the Future Leaders headship development programme. To find out more about Future Leaders' work in primary schools, visit

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