WINGS2014: My Article in Today’s Paper – 8 August 2014

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This week I’m working on the on-site newspaper at WINGS2014, an international Guide and Scout camp being held in Windsor.

Yesterday, following my article on UkraineDaily Brew Editor Richard assigned me today’s spot in our recurring debate feature. Previous editions have questioned the effectiveness of the Guide and Scout Promises, argued how supportive the movements are of cultural diversity, and pondered how the youth sections could change for the better.

Today, we tackle the thorny issue of sex education, and what place (if any) it has in Girl Guiding and Scouting. To gauge some opinions, I gingerly ventured out of the Media tent, looking for thoughts on the issue from young people and leaders alike. For safeguarding legal reasons and for my own protection, I insisted on taking with me fellow newspaper correspondent Vicki Moore. Far more than acting just as an overseer, Vicki’s presence helped facilitate the discussions; it helped me breach a possible gender gap, especially when approaching some of the younger girls. (As a rule-of-thumb, we tried to avoid talking to anyone younger than fourteen anyway.)

I was very impressed by the maturity of some of the young people I spoke to, particularly a group of girls who, I observed, spoke far more fluently and openly than a cluster of lads at least two or three years older than them. Most stunning was the breadth in opinion, in all whom we spoke to. Towards the end of our discussions, I talked to a male Scout leader, who must have been in his mid/late-60s. He said that sex education should come chiefly from parents and grandparents – as it did in his family, where he says he “does happily discuss the topic with [his] grandchildren”  and that the state’s role should be minimal. This was in direct contrast to the views of many young people, who predictably said that they felt awkward when their parents offered their advice in this area. Some schools were deemed to have provided satisfactory lessons, but a surprising majority of the WINGS participants we spoke to felt their schools had fallen short  a Merseyside Explorer claimed that, aside from briefly touching on attitudes towards sex in RE, he and his classmates hadn’t received any ‘sex ed’ since Year 6.

Whilst I would not go so far as to say that it took me away from my comfort zone, writing this report was certainly more challenging than the cheery story of the hearing dog on Wednesday. Challenging, too, as I’d been asked to give Gill Slocombe, the Chief Guide, a tour of the site, but no one had been able to confirm the time that she was expected, nor how long she was expected to spend here. Thus, after ‘picking Gill up’ (with no forewarning) at 1:00pm and showing her to a Guide group who would entertain her over lunch, I ran back to the office to file my article for today’s paper (deadline: 2:00pm). Once that was done, I had the whole afternoon to look after Gill, then spent the last bit of the day on a short filler story for tomorrow’s (Saturday’s) paper. Secretly, we put that edition to bed at 7:00pm yesterday (Thursday), meaning we’re all praying that the “spectacular” closing ceremony passes without hitch. We’ve attributed its write-up to “The Doctor”, in reference to our apparent time-travelling abilities.

The good news is that we can all have a lie-in this morning  our brilliant team has written its last word of the WINGS2014 newspaper. My article for today’s (Friday’s) paper follows.

Let’s Talk About Sex

We asked the question: what role should Guiding and Scouting play in the sex education of young people?

Andrew Burdett
Additional interviewing: Vicki Moore

In such a sensitive subject as sexual education, views differ hugely on how best it should be delivered – indeed, if it should be delivered at all – within Guiding and Scouting. Ought the movements provide a universal programme, or should individual groups have the freedom to tailor their sessions to their own young people?

Two Dublin Scout leaders told us that, whilst they weren’t sure how it would fit in, there is a place for sexual education. One of the women explained: “You’d need to be conscious of what the group wanted, but it’s important that members could at least ask us questions if they wanted to.” The other added: “I’d do my best to answer questions from the group… If someone asked something, I wouldn’t turn them away.” The leaders, both 18, said that being relatively close to the age-range of the Scouts in their troop was an advantage. “When you’re young, you don’t want some 30- or 40-year-old giving you sexual advice. You need someone who you can more easily relate to.”

One group of Girlguiding Senior Section leaders said that the nascent Free Being Me programme – devised by the Dove Foundation and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) – works positively to encourage girls and young women to celebrate their individuality and improve self-esteem. These sessions are delivered under a peer-education scheme, which removes some of the awkwardness associated with a wide leader–participant age-gap. “If you value yourself,” one leader said, “you’re more likely to be careful and sensible”. They noted that this week, their girls have appeared more relaxed about the way that they look than they have been at camps prior to this year’s sessions.

The nature of the Guiding and Scouting movements may be seen to naturally support informal education in this area, just as it does in many others. “The role of being a Guide leader is really three-part,” said one woman, “You’re a teacher, a peer, and a parent.” She was pleased that some members of her unit had felt confident enough to approach her with personal issues. However, she agreed with many Scouts and Guides who told us that they were opposed to making sexual education a mandatory part of the programme. One 15-year-old boy, who said he’d be most likely to consult the NHS Direct website when he wanted sexual health advice, concluded: “If Explorers were forced to take prescribed sex ed lessons, it’d be no different to school.”

Andrew Burdett

Andrew Burdett is a 20-year-old from Maidenhead in Berkshire. A self-professed "lover of life", he enjoys a busy calendar of activities and engagements. With regular involvement in the Scout Association and his church, he was made Head Boy in his final year at school. After a gap-year spent as a Teaching Assistant at a local junior school, he is now half-way through his Journalism Studies degree at the University of Sheffield. In his spare time, he swims, reads, and enjoys writing about himself in the third-person.