School Troops

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Schools may influence many aspects of Scouting in their closed or controlled troop. 

The structure of the school, generally strongly year based, often reflects directly on the Troop. 

When given a place within the timetable scouting becomes a school sponsored activity.  This is largely seen within boarding schools when the expectation is that the school provides activities and opportunities outside the timetabled classroom lessons.  As a ‘school activity’ it is then likely to be included in the central educational style.  The effect of changes in this guiding theory on the school scout Troop are not recorded, and perhaps not planned, but may become evident.

The interaction with other school institutions, in particular the Cadet Corp, can colour the expectations of the Troop. The changing approaches of different leaders are no different from that any troop may experience, but when asked by their employer, the Headmaster, to run a troop another influence is introduced.

This review of School troops is largely focused on schools of higher education, that is, schools that took pupils over the age of 14.

It covers four schools with troops, the 6th Cambridge (Higher Grade School), 7th Cambridge (Cambridgeshire Grammar School), and the fee paying 5th Cambridge (Perse) and 60th Cambridge (Leys).  It does not include Choir schools or the 12th Cambridge, which separated from school control early in its existence.  The four schools all have separate histories, they are reviewed here together to consider the particular influences imposed on them being so entirely within a school.  

The four schools sit in two sub sets, but were each home to a large and successful troop. None now remain as Troops.

          5th and 60th

The 5th Cambridge (Perse) and 60th Cambridge (Leys) schools were both part boarding schools and both took day pupils from across a wide catchment area.  At times both schools ran term times slightly out of kilter and shorter than the local schools which handicapped the interaction with District activities.

Although the size of each troop varied they were rarely less than 24 and often over 100.  At the larger end of the spectrum District involvement was difficult to coordinate and any full attendance would overwhelm the competition.  The planned weekends at home, for borders, and the distance from Cambridge for many day pupils reduced the numbers available to participate in District events particularly when the expectation was that this was in ‘standing’ not ‘made’ Patrols.

Troops of this size and organisation were generally less reliant on District organised activities than the many smaller and less well resourced towns and village troops.  They had a large number of pupils who stayed on until aged 16 or 18 and as such a large body of potential and able Patrol Leaders and Troop Leaders.  Both recorded a large number of Scouts that acted as ASMs in the school troop.

The schools both provided ready access to meeting places and equipment.  The Leys, in particular quickly tapped into parental support and money and had a 30’x 15’ Scout hut within the first year of opening and two further huts of equal size for the Junior Troop and the Rovers within six years.  The Perse appeared to be able to mount almost the whole troop on bicycles and three on horses within two or three years of foundation and provided ‘a magnificent HQ’ shortly after the end of WW1.

This carried over into funding camps and International trips. Neither troop appears preoccupied with of fund raising for Scout events or camps although the 60th was camping abroad within a year of foundation with trek cart and gear.  The trips abroad were fully

Scout events but sat within the experiences offered by the school, that is, Scouting was an activity offered by the school and the school claimed worth and gained by the provision.

Both schools showed similar trajectories of engagement with Scouting as a form of extracurricular activity that initially sat well within their pattern of education.   A series of enthusiastic and long lasting teacher/ Scout Masters maintained the style of Scouting within the schools.  At or towards the end of their tenure a new Scout master stepped in and re invigorated the scouting.  Occasionally the new leaders altered the approach sometimes markedly.  These changes were perhaps in keeping with the changing eras and occasionally similar to alterations encouraged by the Scout Association.  Some were possibly driven by the changing educational thinking within the school. 

Cadet Corps

Both schools had Cadet Corps; for the Perse, at least for a time, boys had to attend one or the other; for the Leys attendance was at times compulsory, if only for a year.  Around WW1 the Perse also dictated the age at which boys should leave Scouts and attend the Cadets, although this was very quickly softened to ensure a successful Scout Troop.  Although specifically not a Scout Association intent some level of training within the scouts was expected to benefit the Cadet Corps.  This may have led to a greater focus on formal fitness regimes and a stronger emphasis on drill in the Scout activities than seen elsewhere.  These observations are drawn from photographic evidence and no written evidence remains to confirm them. The interaction is less clear in the Leys but for several years in the 1950’s and 60’s one or two CCF Patrol’s were part of the Senior Scout Troop.

Both schools listed Scouts alongside the Cadet Corps as externally regulated organisations and not as in-house Societies or Clubs.  

School pride

Pride in a troop and in a school can support the development of quality.  School pride was occasionally held up in Scout writings to be the model for troop pride.  This did not prevent joint activities and the 5th and 60th and to some extent the 7th mixed for communal fun, rather than sharing resources.  For a period in the 1930’s the school troops were overseen as a subset of the District by ADC G M MacFarlane Grieve.  The long standing SM/GSM of the 5th and a teacher, his involvement may have fostered the interactions.  The 5th and 7th VSU’s joined to become the Tithe VSU, the 5th later reforming when the focus was held to be too strongly on the big yearly camp.

School pride may be the reason that the 5th and the 60th have both occasionally displayed a belief that they held a greater importance within the Scouting District than they actually did.  The 5th’s concern was shown in the belief that they came higher in the order of Cambridge Troops, the 60th in their size and importance as a source of income to County.  Neither were greatly exaggerated but both gently ‘over egged’ the arguments.   

Isolation and involvement

The 5th and the 60th went through periods when they stepped away from frequent troop level involvement in the District.  The long term senior leaders were involved in District roles, but the semi isolated troops developed pronounced variations. 

The 5th went through a period when Scout Association regulations were marginally adhered to before the troop was brought back into more standard scout behaviours. With a new leader a greater expectation of behaviour and attendance was imposed and numbers vigorously reduced before rebuilding and significantly increased involvement in District activities was introduced.  

Mixing with other troops maintained a clear sense of ’Scouting’.  The 60th, towards the end of their involvement in scouting, developed new patterns of behaviour that may be seen to pre-empt the 1967 changes. However, it also did away with patrols, uniforms and parades and so viewed itself as a new invention that the school refused to pay the full capitation fee. The District declined the offer of a semi attached troop and Scouting stopped at the Leys.  For both schools isolation from District removed the natural checks to troop idiosyncrasies.

 The level of Scouting in both troops was generally very high, as might be expected from troops with the triple advantage of selective education, pools of older scouts not at work and very able SM’s trained as teachers.  This was an era when most boys left school at 14 or after 1947 at 15.   Work often ran into the evening or travel extended into the meeting times and records for leaving often mention moving away for these reasons and, not infrequently, for evening classes and specialist training.   Both troops also ran sound Courts of Honour, a system nearly always indicative of good internal governance, but reliant on a number of able older Scouts.  

There is no evidence of teachers being given significant amounts of time to run these activities in ’school’ time.  Scout meetings were, at times, timetabled alongside other non academic activities, sometimes first thing in the morning before formal classes, often mid afternoon ahead of weekend Troop activities.  This may have resulted in more Scouting per week and probably more than compensated for the shorter terms.  Any obligation to be involved in some activity during these periods diluted the voluntary aspect of Scouting.  The 5th has a well documented period where it hardened the expectations of members and numbers reduced dramatically for a period.  This followed a period of compulsory attendance in Cadet Force or the Scouts.

The Scouts were one of the School centred organisations that organised Field Days for their members.  These were active, whole day events off site in which everyone stepped outside normal lesson plans.

The Perse Wolf Cubs recorded a change from a Saturday meeting to an after school activity, a successful switch, but possibly indicative of it previously being one of a number of options available at this timetable slot and so not quite voluntary.  

Within the Perse Cub Scouts we see the activities provided by year group not role.  It was the 5th formers who went camping and were selected for activities run by the Scout Troop for the Pack.  The 60th started with final year students, a Junior Troop only being formed later, and only then did the school cater for the full age range of Scouts.  They ran distinct Junior and Senior Troops in the 1930’s presumably for their own convenience, and, presumably, to the detriment of the Patrol system.  In the final years this distinction disappeared as did the Patrol system, badges and uniform, but not the divisions by school year.

Whilst the troops had limited opportunity to engage in District events both schools provided a number of leaders who held District and County roles.

          6th and 7th

The 6th Cambridge at the Higher Grade school was a very successful Troop before and briefly after WW1 but quickly failed as the driving forces departed.  It stands here as a very large school based troop that remained entirely in house for its short duration.  It is of note that as it failed the school attempted to run camps as an extension to the core education, but these were at best twice a year and appear to have not lasted for many years.  The other benefits of scouting were not replicated in this post ‘Scout’ exercise.  The school had no large sponsors or a parent base of more than usual wealth.  The 6th was a major troop and the leaders very active in District events.  As a school it was specifically set up to provide higher education for poorer families in Cambridge and succeed without the advantages of the established and better funded 5th and 60th.

The 7th Cambridge (Cambridgeshire High School) remained a powerful and formal Scout Troop throughout its existence.  As with the 6th it was a school for higher education and the boys stayed beyond 14.  Although based at the school it appears to have avoided changes in structure shaped by school educational thought and policy.  Being a local government school it may be that had less freedom to develop separate educational approaches.  The final demise, at the transition to a Sixth Form College, removed the recruiting base and the structural support of meeting places and broke the link.

The 7th provided many leaders to the District from the troop, unlike the 5th and particularly the 60th most pupils were local lads.  Although a large troop capable of organising major in-house activities they were well engaged and supportive of District events.  They had the advantage of generating leaders from the Troop and, unlike the 60th, many remained in town.  A strong but less purely school centred culture resulted.     

Various endings

The four troops all ended in slightly different ways.  In replacing the very visible part Scout programme, camping and exploration, each school showed recognition of the benefits of this experience, or if not felt obliged to continue offering this on the prospectus.   Camping was a skill required to facilitate many other school experiences.  In the 5th and 60th many camps had secondary social or scientific functions and in the 60th CCF piggybacked on the Senior Scout camping training and skills.

 The 60th moved to the new Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, the 5th became the Perse Exploration Society (PES).  The 6th attempted to continue the camping elements of the Troop.  The 7th did not fail as a troop, but lost its recruiting and physical base, amalgamated with other troops but gradually lost identity.

Of these the Perse PES is most Scout like in the breadth of approach.  Both the 5th and the 60th listed the replacement groups under in house societies and clubs.

JWR Archivist Jan 2023