Proficiency Badges were part of the original Scout programme, and also part of the original Guide programme. Their aim was to encourage pastimes amongst the individual Scouts/Guides, to develop skills and hobbies which might offer options for employment. Although there were set clauses to be done, unlike with awards like first class, the aim was to encourage the individual's best effort, and self-improvement, not have a set standard and pass/fail.
The badges available in the 1912 handbook were First Aid/Ambulance, Artist, Boatswain, Clerk, Cook, Cyclist, Child-Nurse, Dairymaid, Electrician, Florist, Fire Brigade, Flyer, Gymnast, Horsemanship, Interpreter, Laundress, Matron, Musician, Needlewoman, Naturalist, Sick Nurse, Pathfinder, Pioneer, Rifle-Shot, Signaller, Swimmer, Telegraphist.
At this time, the badges for Guides were embroidered in blue stitching, on a white felt-style background. As they were unbound, it was common for the owners to blanket-stitch the edges to reinforce them, and to remove them from the uniform for laundry.
With the coming of Brownies in 1915 (Rosebuds in 1914) there came equally a set of Brownie Proficiency badges. As with the Guide badges, the aim was for the individual to do her best, rather than a fixed, set standard. They matched the badges for Wolf Cubs, except that the athlete badge for Brownies showed a figure in a skirt rather than shorts.
The badges were split into four categories, and colour-coded. They were:
Intelligence - Blue
Handcraft - Yellow
Service to Others - Red
Physical Health - Green.
In the 1918 Guide Handbook, the badges were:
Intelligence - Collector, Observer, Signaller. Handcraft - Artist, Weaver, Wood-worker. Service for Others - First Aider, Guide, House Orderly. Physical Health - Athlete, Swimmer, Team Player.
Just as the other sections had their proficiency badges, so too, from their founding, did Rangers. The aim, similarly, was for the individual to develop her skills and interests, possibly starting a hobby which could turn into a lifelong interest or a career. Senior Guides/Rangers could work for Guide proficiency badges, but there were also badges created specifically for them. They were similar in style to the Guide proficiency badges, but with the outer ring in red embroidery instead of blue, as shown. The badges available in 1918 for Senior Guides were:
Clerk, Finisher, First Class Signaller, Textile Weaver, Dressmaker, First Aider, Milkmaid, Probationer, Thrift, Farmer, First-Class Cook, Nurse, Telegraphist.
In the early 1920s, the background fabric for Guide proficiency badges changed. As keeping the white felt clean was difficult, a 'drab' background was agreed, and the badges were now stitched in olive green thread, on a navy felt background.
Similarly to the Guide badges, in the early 1920s the Ranger badges moved to having a navy felt background, but they retained their red embroidery, with any extra details picked out in white.
In 1933 Ranger proficiency badges moved from being felt, to being woven - stitched on navy ribbon, with a white or black backing, and navy overlocked edges.
They were withdrawn during World War 2, as the Ranger programme focussed on war work. Post-war, the Ranger programme focussed on programme certificates, rather than proficiency badges. Other than 'staged badges' (see below), Rangers did not have proficiency badges between 1943 and 2018.
In 1936 the larger-sized Guide woven badges were produced. They are woven on navy ribbon, backed with black or white stuff, and bound with a navy overlocked border.
In 1938 Brownie badges ceased to be colour coded, and moved to being all brown felt, with yellow stitching, with 'Girl Guides' lettering at the top.
In the 1950s Brownie badges changed from being felt-type fabric, to being woven - stitched on ribbon backed with black or white stuff, with edges oversewn with brown thread.
In 1966, Guide proficiency badges changed size. A new three-quarter-length sleeved Guide blouse had been introduced, and Guides were finding it difficult to fit the existing 44mm badges. Hence, the size was reduced to 30mm.
In the late 1980s, a series of 'Staged' badges were introduced. Starting with Chess and Short Tennis, a range were introduced. Each badge was open to Brownies, Guides and Rangers, they had 2-4 levels, and they were on topics where girls might take up the hobby at different ages in different localities.
It meant that a Ranger who had just taken up a hobby could do a basic level badge, or a Brownie who was skilled at a hobby could do a higher stage. Initially the Chess and Short Tennis badges had different designs, but they soon settled to being square badges, with yellow embroidery on green ribbon, backed in black, and oversewn with green thread. The number in red indicated which stage was awarded. They remained available to Senoir Section until the early 2000s.
In 1994 The Guide Badges underwent a slight change of wording. With the name of the organisation being changed from the Girl Guides Association to the Guide Association, the wording on the badges was also changed, from Girl Guides, to Guides.
1994 also saw the wording on the Brownie badges changed, from saying 'Girl Guides' to saying 'Brownie Guides', for the same reason.
In 2000 the Guide interest badges changed. Instead of a uniform shape and colour scheme, they would now have random shapes and colours. Each would have the badge's name on it, along with the Guide logo.
In the mid-2000s, the Brownie badges also changed. It was out with the brown triangular badges, and in with rhombus-shaped woven yellow badges. As with the Guide badges, each badge had it's name on, and the Guide logo. 'Standard' badges were on a yellow ground with a blue overstitched border. The 'Advanced' grade of the badges, (where one existed) had a pale blue ground. These continued until 2018.
In 2014, the Guide badges were redesigned. All would be a round shape, and would feature the design within a star shape. These continued until 2018.