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Demos - Ambitious pilot in deprived schools shows how extra-curricular activities can build children’s leadership skills

126 primary school children from deprived areas took part in an innovative pilot run by the Scout Association

Study revealed children experienced a 22 per cent increase in their leadership capabilities over six months

Students also reported pilot made them feel proud and had a positive impact on their relationship with their school

Demos’ independent evaluation of the Scout Association’s Character by Doing pilot scheme in English schools – supported by the Department for Education’s character grant – has found extra-curricular activities can encourage “statistically significant and positive impacts” on primary school children’s leadership skills.

The evaluation showed students participating in the pilot improved their leadership capabilities by 22 per cent over six months.

The Character by Doing pilot delivered extra-curricular Scouting activities to 126 children aged 8-10 years old, in schools across England selected on the basis of deprivation, demographics and lacking such extra-curricular provision in the wider community. It provided educators and parents with the tools to bridge the gap between formal and non-formal education, and boost children’s character capabilities such as empathy, grit and leadership.

Children were given the opportunity to participate in outdoor games and camping activities, learn about natural sciences and biology, cooking classes, arts and crafts, youth social action, residential adventure, and challenges designed to build specific skills – such as communication, team-working and problem-solving.

Aside from the substantial boost to leadership, the Demos evaluation also found that both teachers and students had enjoyed participating in the pilot, and supported its expansion across other schools. Students also reported that the pilot had made them feel proud, had a positive impact on their relationship with their school, and that they would like to continue Scouting.

Recognised for its leading research in character education, Demos was selected to partner with the Scout Association to design, deliver and evaluate the programme over six months from September 2015. Demos conducted and analysed a series of robust surveys to measure the impact that participation in Character by Doing had made to participants’ core social and emotional skills and resilience.

Previous Demos research on non-formal learning like Scouting has demonstrated its capacity to boost children’s moral, critical thinking and social capacities – but it has also highlighted the obstacles to embedding it within the UK schooling system.

Many schools, for example, have indicated willingness to provide these opportunities, but lack the resources to do so. As the Learning by Doing report revealed last year, this has led to significant disparities in the depth and quality of extra-curricular activities available to children – with a concerning socio-economic dimension.

This pilot scheme sought to bridge this gap, by bringing Scouting into school settings in deprived areas, where children might not otherwise have had the opportunity to participate.

The evaluation found that partnership between schools and organisations like Scouts worked best where the school leadership were actively engaged, and where teachers were not under additional time pressure due to workload or accountability demands.

The Extended School Day

Based on this evaluative evidence as well as its wider research programme on character, Demos draws a series of conclusions about the £500m extended school day policy announced in the Education white paper:

  • Additionality: the funding should be targeted at providing new opportunities, rather than subsidising or replacing those that already exist, and to do so the Government will have to radically improve the quality of data on extra-curricular activity.
  • Quality: the activity provided in this additional school time should have demonstrated its ability to develop character, and all schools in receipt of additional funding to support a longer school day should have to regularly account for how it is spent, as with Pupil Premium funding.
  • Differentiation: schools should be encouraged to provide a range of opportunities through this additional funding, and demonstrate that their mix of provision is meeting the demands of students.

Commenting on the pilot, the Head of the Citizenship programme at Demos, Ralph Scott, said:

“This evaluation contributes to our understanding of what activities help with character development, finding that participation in a Cub programme can have a significant impact on young people’s confidence in leading a team.

“Even more important are the lessons it has for schools and providers of non-formal learning who are considering working together: suggesting that a committed head teacher and an authentic external voice are important for success in such partnerships.

“We know that character is hugely important to living a happy and successful life, but too few young people have the opportunities they need to develop it. Therefore in rolling out their laudable plan to extend the school day, the Government should ensure that the new provision is targeted at those who need character-building opportunities most.”

Spokesperson for the Scout Association, UK Youth Commissioner Hannah Kentish, said:

“The Department of Education funding for this pilot helped us get Scouting into more communities and reach more young people. The data we have from this pilot proves the Scouting programmes provides real benefit to children who take part in it. For example it helps young people develop leadership skills and teachers also report that those engaged with the programme have improved behaviour and better school attendance.

We’re delighted with the progress of the pilot and hope we can see more young people in deprived communities reached out to in future.”

Media contact:

Alexandra Porter, Demos  –

Ph. 0207 367 4200  –  (Out of Hours) 07969 326069

Notes to editors:

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think-tank: an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit:

‘Character by Doing’ was created and delivered by the Scout Association. It is funded by a grant from the Department of Education’s character education fund.

The Scout Association supports the largest mixed volunteer-led movement for young people in the UK. Visit:

Schools involved in the pilot include: The Old Leake Primary and Nursery School, Boston. Al-Aqsa School, Leicester. Rose Hill Primary School, Oxford. Belmont Castle Academy, Grays, Thurrock. Horizon Primary Academy, Swanley. Fairlight Primary and Nursery School, Brighton.

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