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The Scout Association

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Background Information

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The Scout Association
The Scout Association logo.svg

The Scout Association logo, featuring the Fleur-de-lis
Headquarters Gilwell Park
Location Chingford
Country United Kingdom
Founded 1910,
incorporated 1912
Founder Baden-Powell
Membership 413,223 youth
  79,037 adults
Chief Scout Bear Grylls
Chief Executive Derek Twine
President Prince Edward, Duke of Kent
Affiliation World Organization of the Scout Movement

The Scout Association is the World Organization of the Scout Movement recognised member association in the United Kingdom. Scouting began in 1907 through the efforts of Robert Baden-Powell. The Scout Association was formed under its previous name, The Boy Scouts Association, in 1912 by the grant of a royal charter. The Boy Scouts Association was renamed as The Scout Association in 1967.

The stated aim of The Scout Association is to "promote the development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential, as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities". The Scout Association provides a Programme to help achieve this aim for young people from the age of 6 to 25 The latest census shows that over 410,000 people aged 6–25 are members of The Scout Association, with a further 33,000 people waiting to join in the movement. Thanks to this work, The Scout Association is a member of The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS).

Girls were first admitted in 1976 to the Venture Scouts, and the rest of Sections on an optional basis in 1991. Since 2007 all Scout Groups in Britain must accept girls as well as boys, although religious preferences can be accommodated.

The Scout Association in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is open to all faiths and variations to the Scout Promise are allowed in order to accommodate those of different religious obligations or national allegiances. The Scout Association does not permit an atheist version of the Promise, or a lack of any sort of faith or religion in the programme, which has attracted criticism from the National Secular Society (NSS) and the British Humanist Association, but in 2012 the Scout Association began plans to create an alternative Promise without references to God.

The association's current Chief Scout is Bear Grylls, with Wayne Bulpitt as Chief Commissioner and Derek Twine as the Chief Executive. The association's president is HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a patron of the organisation.


Birth of the Movement

Scouting certificate dated December 3, 1914

The roots of The Scout Association come from the fame of Robert Baden-Powell following his exploits during the Second Boer War. In 1907, "B-P", as he is known to members of the Movement, ran a camp on Brownsea Island for boys of varying backgrounds. These boys came from Eton College and Harrow School, Parkstone, Hamworthy, and Bournemouth. This camp is now considered to be the start of the Movement.

The following year, Baden-Powell wrote a series of magazines, Scouting for Boys, setting out activities and programmes which existing youth organisations could make use of. The reaction was phenomenal, and quite unexpected. In very short time, Scout Patrols were created up and down the country, all following the principles of Baden-Powell's book. By the time of the first census in 1910, there were over 100,000 members of the Movement.

The Boy Scouts Association was created in 1910 in order to provide a national body which could organise and support the rapidly growing number of Scout Patrols. It was also the wish of Baden-Powell to wrest control of Scouting from his book's publishers as it was felt the Movement was not given the status it deserved as the publishers controlled membership of Scouting.

1910–1920: Growth

Membership badge of The Scout Association prior to 1967

Almost immediately, The Boy Scouts Association was presented with a dilemma. Many of the boys in the Scout Patrols (at the start, Scouting was for boys between the ages of 10 and 19) had younger brothers who also wanted to participate. There were also many girls who wanted the same thing as well – Baden-Powell came across a group of Girl Scouts at the Crystal Palace Rally in 1909. The solution for the younger boys was simple – the Wolf Cubs Section was created in 1916. However, Edwardian principles could not allow young girls to participate in the rough and tumble, and "wild" activities of the Scouts, and so the Girl Guides were created by Baden-Powell's sister, Agnes, to provide a more "proper" programme of activities. Many of those who had grown out of Scouts still wanted to be a part of Scouting, so another section was created in 1918 – the Rover Scouts.

Scouting was now a global phenomenon, with a Royal Charter of 4 January 1912 incorporating The Boy Scouts Association throughout the British Empire, with "the purpose of instructing boys of all classes in the principles of discipline loyalty and good citizenship", being granted by George V. The first World Jamboree for Scouts was held in Olympia, London in 1920, and was a celebration and conference of the World Organization of the Scout Movement.


Scouting in Britain went largely unchanged until it underwent a major review, The Chief Scouts' Advance Party Report, and change in 1967. The name of the organisation was changed to The Scout Association. Major changes to the sections and their respective programmes were made – the youngest section were now named Cub Scouts, the Boy Scout section was renamed simply as the Scout section, Senior Scouts became Venture Scouts (for 16–20 year olds), and the Rover Scout section was disbanded. The Scout Uniform was also changed – most notably with the inclusion of long trousers for the Scouts (previously they had been wearing knee-length shorts).

The Advance Party Report was not welcomed by all members and a rival report, "The Black Report", was produced in 1970 by "The Scout Action Group". This provided alternative proposals for the development of the Movement and asked for Groups that wished to continue to follow Baden-Powell's original scheme to be permitted to do so. The rejection of these proposals resulted in the formation of the Baden-Powell Scouts' Association.

Several developments were made over the following years, including the introduction of co-educational units of boys and girls, initially restricted to the Venture Scouts section in 1976, but from 1991 junior sections were allowed to become mixed as well. Parents involved in Scouting in Northern Ireland also began to organise activities for their children who were too young for Cub Scouts. This eventually led to the creation of the Beaver Scout section, officially starting in 1986.

Despite these changes, and many other minor ones, Scouting started to fall into a decline through the 1990s with falling membership levels. This spurred a major review into the causes of the decline, followed by a programme change which took effect in 2003.

In the late 1990s, a Muslim Scout Fellowship was formed, which by the end of 2007, had assisted the establishment of 13 Muslim Scout Groups in England and Wales.


Scouting found itself competing for young people's time against many other extracurricular activities and schools themselves, who were increasingly venturing into the same types of activities. The adult leaders became concerned with the growing litigation culture in the UK. Scouting has also been challenged by a negative stereotype as being old fashioned.

The programme change in 2002 sought to overcome the growing challenges facing the Movement and saw changes at all levels of British Scouting – the most apparent being the suspension of Venture Scouts. To replace this senior section, The Scout Association created the Explorer Scouts for 14- to 18-year-old members, and the Scout Network for 18–25-year-olds. The Scout Association also introduced a number of new badges, such as computing skills and skateboarding, to modernise the image of Scouting. These new badges drew mixed reactions from several public figures, with some praising The Scout Association for "moving with the times" and others feeling the changes went "against the Scouting ethos of Baden-Powell".

Explorer Scouts climbing at Stanage Edge

Other changes in 2001 included changes to the leadership training so that it became more flexible, allowing for specific roles in the Movement, rather than the general leadership training which preceded it. New Scout uniforms for all sections and leaders were also introduced in 2001, designed by Meg Andrews, with the aim of being more modern and appealing to young people.

There was criticism of some of these changes, mostly citing problems with the implementation, although several years into the new structure the Explorer Scout and Scout Network sections have become well established. Census figures for the last few years show an upturn in membership, with The Scout Association in April 2010 announcing the highest rate of growth in British Scouting since 1972, with total membership reaching just under half a million. Scouting in Britain continues to promote the same Principles and Methods as written by Baden-Powell in Scouting for Boys more than 100 years ago.

British Scouts played a major role in the centenary celebrations of Scouting in 2007, with celebration events organised on Brownsea Island, as well as hosting the 21st World Scout Jamboree.

In 2012, the Duchess of Cambridge announced her intention to become a volunteer leader for the movement with a group near her Anglesey home.


The Chief Scout is the leader of The Scout Association, and is responsible for determining the direction and policies of Scouting in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Crown Overseas Territories. Bear Grylls is the current Chief Scout after replacing Peter Duncan in July 2009. There is a team of Commissioners who are responsible for the Scouting programme in their respective divisions.

At all levels, Scouts are governed by an executive of trustees, known as executive committees – these could be volunteers from the local community who have had ties with Scouting, either themselves or through their children. The executive normally consists of a chairman, secretary, treasurer, and a number of other officers. In Group Executive Committees, Group Scout Leaders and Section Leaders also form part of the committee. Their role is to ensure that the best interests of the young people and the community are served by the Group, District, County, or National organisations.

Senior volunteers in The Scout Association are called 'Commissioners'. Every County/Area/Region and District is headed by a Commissioner who is responsible for ensuring the Districts/Groups under their jurisdiction meet the standards set by The Scout Association. They receive support from Regional Development Officers in England, who are employed by the Regional Development Service and deployed locally to help support The Scout Association's objectives. Commissioners in the other nations receive support from Field Commissioners, employed and directed differently. District Commissioners report to the County/Area/Regional Commissioner, who in turn report to the Chief Commissioner.

A Scout parade in Oxford, 2004

The Scout Association is divided into four mainland national groupings: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each of these divisions are further broken up into local Counties (England and Northern Ireland), Areas (Wales), or Regions (Scotland), which generally follow the boundaries of the ceremonial counties of Great Britain. The County/Area/Region consists of a number of Scout Districts, which are made up of Groups.

The Groups are the local organisations for Scouting, and are the direct descendants of the original Scout Patrols. Groups can consist of one or more Beaver Colonies, Cub Packs, and Scout Troops. Groups may also have one or more Group Scout Active Support Units, and have an Explorer Scout Unit attached to it, though Explorer Scouts are managed at the District level. Scout Groups are led by a Group Scout Leader whose main role is handling communication between the local District and the Section Leaders and ensuring the Scout Group meets the minimum standard required by The Scout Association. All leaders work as unpaid volunteers, of which there are around 120,000. In addition to this number, the Association employs 198 full-time and part-time staff to support the work of its adult volunteers.


In the Scout Association, there are five sections to cater for youth aged between 6 and 25 years of age.

Section Ages Controlled by Activities Introduced 2008 Membership 2009 Membership 2010 Membership 2011 Membership
Beaver Scouts 6–8 Group Emphasis on having fun. 1986 101,094 103,226 108,018 112,058
Cub Scouts 8–10½ Group Introduction to Scoutcraft and activities. 1916 137,268 140,621 142,904 144,296
Scouts 10½–14 Group Further development of Scouting skills. 1907 107,966 113,058 117,328 118,462
Explorer Scouts 14–18 District Emphasis on personal challenge and adventure. 2002 30,422 31,948 34,689 36,346
Scout Network 18–25 County/Area More flexible with greater personal choice. 2002 1,913 2,048 2,171 2,061

The first four sections (Beavers to Explorers) are led by a Section Leader, who must hold an appointment for the position, and is aided by assistant leaders. In addition to the leaders, others can assist in the running of the section; Young Leaders, Explorer Scouts trained in leadership techniques, are frequently a part of section meetings as are other volunteers, usually the parents of children in the group, and members of the Group Executive Committee who help operate the Group financially. Scout Networks are mainly member led, but are assisted by a Network Leader who ensures that the Network is working within the rules of the association.

In addition to the main programme sections, a parallel Scouting programme, Scoutlink, provides support and involvement for young people and adults with developmental disabilities.

Uniformed Ranks

    • Patron - Honorary Appointment - Head of State (Elizabeth II)
    • President - Honorary Appointment - Member of the Royal Family ( Duke of Kent)
  1. Chief Scout - Honorary Head of UK Scouting
  2. National Commissioners - Commissioner responsible for a Country within the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland)
  3. Regional Commissioners - Commissioner responsible for a Group of Counties / or Region of the Country
  4. County or Area Commissioners - Commissioner responsible for a Group of Towns / Cities or Districts within a Area / County
  5. District Commissioners - Commissioner responsible for a number of Groups in a District / City / Town
  6. Deputy District Commissioners - Deputy to the District Commissioner to support and help run the District
  7. Assistant District Commissioners (inc Explorer Scout Commissioner and Local Network Leader) - Sectional Advisers appointed by the District Commissioner
  8. Group Scout Leaders - A local appointment to run and support a particular group, Appointed by the District Commissioner
  9. Assistant Group Scout Leaders - Deputy to the Group Scout Leader to support and help run the Group
  10. Section Leaders (Beaver Scout Leader, Cub Scout Leader, Scout Leader, Explorer Leader) - Leader responsible for the Running of a Single Section
  11. Assistant Section Leaders - Assistants to Support the Section Leader to run the Section
  12. Sectional Assistants - Uniformed assistants who have decided not to be full adult leaders

All leaders are trained over a 3 year period with various courses in Child Safety, Camping Skills, Scouting Skills, Management and Administration, All leaders are first aid trained every 3 years also.

Beaver Scout, Cub Scout, Cub Scout Seconder, Cub Scout Sixer, Scout, Scout Assistant Patrol Leader, Scout Patrol Leader, Scout Senior Patrol Leader, Explorer Scout, Senior Explorer Scout, Network Scout, Queens Scout.

Air and Sea Scouts

Some Scout Groups belong to separate branches called Air Scouts and Sea Scouts. Both branches follow the core programme in all Sections but can add more aeronautical or nautical emphasis depending on the branch, with some Group branches being recognised by the Royal Air Force or Royal Navy. In the United Kingdom there are approximately 400 Sea Scout Groups, of which about 25% (101 Groups) are Royal Navy recognised, whilst of 117 Air Scout Groups, 43 are recognised by the RAF.

Progressive award scheme

Throughout all the sections in scouting, a progressive award scheme operates which forms a major part of the scout programme and promotes a consistent commitment to the scout programme. There are six awards as part of the scheme, five of which are Chief Scout's awards and culminate in the Queen's Scout award (King's Scout prior to 1953).

The first three awards, the Chief Scout's Bronze, Silver and Gold award, are the highest possible awards achievable in Beavers, Cubs and Scouts respectively. To achieve these awards, a number of challenge badges must be previously obtained, demonstrating a wide range of skills, in addition to a personal challenge. The final three awards, The Chief Scout's Platinum, Diamond and the Queen's Scout award are all available in the Explorer Scout and Scout Network sections alone. The awards mirror the requirements of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award at Bronze, Silver and Gold level respectively, consisting of a period of time volunteering in the local community, a prolonged physical activity, the advancement of a skill and the partaking of an expedition, allowing a participant to partake in both the DofE and the award at the same time. In addition, these three awards do not have to be completed in order, and participants can skip straight to a specific award, although additional work is involved. Achieving the Queen's Scout award is seen as a significant event on a national scale; recipients of the award are invited to join the St George's Day service at Windsor Castle the year after completing the scheme, and parade before The Queen.

The progressive award scheme was developed from original awards and classifications used since the origin of scouting in 1907. These lay with the award of 'First' and 'Second' class standards within the different sections, and with the creation of the King's Scout award. These awards focused on the values of service and basic scouting skills. Following a review in the 1960s, the class standards were dropped and replaced in Cubs by arrow awards and in Scouts by the 'Scout Standard', 'Advanced Scout Standard', and the 'Chief Scout Award'; meanwhile the renamed 'Queen's Scout' award was changed to focus on long-term service and commitment as well as the completion of an expedition lasting four days and fifty miles. Further changes occurred a few decades later. The Cub arrows were replaced in 1990 with the 'Cub Scout Award', 'Adventure Award' and 'Adventure Crest' award, while the Scout Standards were replaced in 1983 with the 'Scout Award', 'Pathfinder Award', and 'Explorer Award' - the Chief Scout's Award remained the highest award for the Scout Section. The 'Venture Scout Award' was also created for the senior section as an intermediary stage to the Queen's Scout Award, as were additional awards for Beaver Scouts. All these awards were abolished or changed following the introduction of the current 6-25 programme in February 2002.

Promise and Law

The Scout Promise is made by all members of The Scout Association from the Scout section upwards, including Leaders:

On my honour, I promise that I will do my best,
To do my duty to God and to the Queen,
To help other people,
And to keep the Scout Law.

Additional variations of the promise are used for different faiths or for members from other countries, whose allegance is pledged to the country and not the monarch. For the two younger sections, a simpler promise is used: Cub Scouts utilise the normal promise with the omission of the opening 'On my honour' and a change in the final line "to keep the Cub Scout Law", while beaver scouts use a different promise altogether:

I promise to do my best,
To be kind and helpful,
And to love God.

In addition to the promise, there is a Scout Law which dictates what qualities a scout should hold. The Scout Law is as follows:

  1. A Scout is to be trusted.
  2. A Scout is loyal.
  3. A Scout is friendly and considerate.
  4. A Scout belongs to the world-wide family of Scouts.
  5. A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
  6. A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
  7. A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.

This law is used for all sections except Cubs and Beavers. Beaver Scouts have no law, as these values are to be demonstrated through the meetings themselves. The Cub Scout law is different again:

Cub scouts always do their best,
think of others before themselves
and do a good turn every day.

The motto of the Scout Association, and of scouting as a whole, is 'Be Prepared'. These were explained in the original Scouting books and was expanded in a series of promotional posters for the sections in the early 2000s.

In 2012 the Scout Association reviewed it's fundamentals and launched a consultation to ask its members whether an alternative version of the Scout Promise should be developed for atheists and those unable to make the existing commitment.


Across the country numerous campsites are owned by members of the Scout Association, usually Scout Districts and Counties, and are run by the individual Scout County or District councils. These campsites are also used by others outside the organisation and gains additional income for the scout county or district.

However, eight different sites are run directly from the national levels of the Scout Association. Seven sites are branded and operated as Scout Activity Centres, providing camping sites and adventurous activities alongside. These seven are Gilwell Park on the London/ Essex border and headquarters of the organisation, Downe in Kent, Ferney Crofts in the New Forest, Great Tower in the Lake District, Hawkhirst in Northumberland, Woodhouse Park in Gloucestershire and Youlbury in Oxfordshire, the oldest permanent scout campsite in the world.

In addition to these sites, the Scout Association runs two conference centres, one within Gilwell Park, and another at a separate site in central London, Baden-Powell House. Baden-Powell House is also a scouting hostel, providing cheap scout accommodation for central London trips.

Notable former Scouts

The Scout Association has had many notable members in the past, with the following selection being the best known:

The Scout Association overseas

As well as controlling for Scouting in the United Kingdom, The Scout Association is also responsible for Scouting in the British overseas territories and Crown Dependencies, as well as some small independent nations. Non-sovereign territories with Scouting run by The Scout Association include:

  • Anguilla Anguilla
  • Bermuda Bermuda
  • Cayman Islands Cayman Islands
  • Falkland Islands Falkland Islands
  • Gibraltar Gibraltar
  • Montserrat Montserrat
  • Saint Helena Saint Helena and Ascension Island
  • British Virgin Islands British Virgin Islands
  • Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Isle of Man Isle of Man

Sovereign countries with Scouting run by The Scout Association, as they are without independent Scouting organisations, include:

  • Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda
  • Solomon Islands Solomon Islands
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Kitts and Nevis
  • Tonga Tonga
  • Tuvalu Tuvalu
  • Vanuatu Vanuatu

The British Scout programme is also offered to British citizens living outside of the United Kingdom. British Scouts in Western Europe serves Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands while British Groups Abroad covers the rest of the world.

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