Early View Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Be Prepared: scouting out good citizens

by Fiona Ferbrache

Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watcha,

Ging gang goo, ging gang goo…..

Gibberish perhaps, but these lyrics evoke memories of singing round the campfire when I was in the Brownies.  It is also a popular song among Boy Scouts and was written by Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout movement more than one hundred years ago.  Last month, it was reported that a record number of young people in the UK are involved with Scouts, and also that 10,000 of those teenagers (aged 14-18) have become Scout leaders through the Scout Association’s Young Leaders’ Scheme (2002).

The Scout movement, followed later by the Girl Guide movement, was established to enhance the physical, mental and spiritual development of young people, and to encourage youngsters to play constructive roles in society.  With similar aims, National Citizen Service was established by the UK government in 2010 as a programme to encourage teenagers to develop skills towards responsible citizenship and to foster deeper engagement with their communities.

Sarah Mills (2012) refers to these two schemes as informal citizen training in a recent paper that explores cultural and historical geographies of youth citizenship outside of school education.  Mills’ analysis draws on British scouting in the first half of the twentieth century and provides an embodied historical geography of the organisation.  In her paper, Mills links scouting to concepts of citizenship and nationhood, arguing that the movement has always made reference to young people as ‘active’, ‘moral’ and ‘British’ citizens.

Thus, a range of opportunities are available for young people to engage in citizen training.  While Scouting continues to attract large numbers of young people, it is worth considering who might be excluded from this movement and whether the National Citizen Service is able to address these gaps.  With choice, I’d opt for scouting: the campfire, baked potatoes and gibberish songs any day:

…Hayla, oh hayla shayla, oh hayla shayla, shayla, oh-ho,

Hayla, oh hayla shayla, ohhayla shayla, shayla, oh.

Shally wally, shally wally, shally wally, shally wally

Oompah, oompah, oompah, oompah

  Mills, S. (2012) ‘An instruction in good citizenship’: scouting and the historical geographies of citizenship education. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00500.x

  More teenagers opt to be scout leaders.  BBC News report

  National Citizen Service


  1. However, the scouts shown in the picture are not members of the Scout Association who run the Young Leader scheme.Intriguing! Wonder who they are? Scouts they would seem to be, but what organisation? Where did you find the phot?
    Pete Sword
    a Young Leader Leader.

  2. Sad to be able to answer this but they look like French Catholic Scouts- not of any of the main organisations but of a smaller, independent one- hence the sacred heart membership badges.

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