All party group puts play at the heart of proposed child health strategy

13 Oct
A Parliamentary report on children’s play, published today, calls for play to be at the centre of a ‘whole child’ approach to health and wellbeing.

The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, today launches its long-awaited report on children’s play.

Announcing the report, the group says that ‘whilst there is broad consensus about the importance of physical activity in the battle against obesity, play (policy) has lost political momentum in recent years and the report calls for a fresh approach’.

In a statement released alongside the report today, Baroness Benjamin says that the group’s ‘proposals on play are ‘integral to a “whole child” strategy for health and wellbeing and should not be regarded as an “add on”. Of course encouraging children to participate in sport is important, but in practice, not all children are “sporty”. Play benefits children of all ages in many different settings and should be at the heart of government initiatives to promote their health and wellbeing, overseen by a Cabinet Minister for Children with the power of cross-departmental audit’.

The group added that the report emphasises ‘play as an essential part of the learning process both inside and outside the classroom and home’ and that it also looks at ‘the role of the planning process in making streets and outdoor space playable for children’.

The report calls on ‘the play industry, advertising, the media and national and local government to recognise the contribution that play can make to children’s lives’.

“(promoting) play as part of a whole child strategy should be a key priority for policy-makers at all levels”.

– Helen Clark, lead author of ‘Play’, a report of the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

The report’s lead author, former MP Helen Clark, said that it was time for a re-evaluation of play (policy) including new guidance for parents and training for health and education professionals. She also stressed the need for play not to be regarded as an expendable part of childhood:

‘The All Party Group sees play as central to a child’s learning and healthy development. Research has shown that integrating time for play into the school day is essential to develop creativity, promote emotional intelligence and improve academic achievement … There is a worrying trend towards cutting down on break times at school and parents being reluctant to let their children stray away from the garden. It’s time to see play in all its infinite variety as an essential component of child health of mind and body – and also key to combating the scourge of obesity.

 (promoting) play as part of a whole child strategy should be a key priority for policy-makers at all levels.’

The full report ‘Play’ by the All Party Parliamentary Group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood can be downloaded here



Playwork steering group calls for halt in standards review

9 Oct
New playwork body steering group asks sector skills council to rethink its position on Playwork Principles.

The steering group for the initiative to develop a new vehicle for playwork has written to SkillsActive urging the sector skills council to pause the current review of the national occupational standards to address widespread concerns in the field, including that the cornerstone Playwork Principles are to be dropped or replaced.

A statement by the Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, has warned that ‘the revised national occupational standards should not be informed by any statement other than the Playwork Principles. To do otherwise would represent a breach of trust between SkillsActive and the playwork profession’.

The steering group wants a fuller debate to engage the playwork community; and to ensure employers, awarding bodies and the government agencies they are answering to, respond to its deep concerns.

Many practitioners are concerned that National Occupational Standards are missing the point of playwork.

Practitioners are concerned that National Occupational Standards are missing the point of playwork. Photo: A.Voce

These have been further highlighted in a recent article by Shelley Newstead, the managing editor of the Journal of Playwork Practice. In a detailed and scholarly critique of the review, Newstead decries the failure of the NOS to reflect the essence of playwork practice and warns that playwork, as being developed within this framework, is in danger of ‘turning into another form of the institutionalisation of children’.

While acknowledging, in its letter to SkillsActive, that the sector skills council has ‘worked closely with an expert working group made up of playworkers in order to ensure the new NOS is as representative of and faithful to playwork as possible’, the new vehicle steering group asserts that the abandonment of the Playwork Principles in full, as a cohesive statement, is unacceptable. It argues ‘that good playwork practice must fully inform this review process rather than have to follow it. The cornerstone statements of good practice surely cannot be changed without the consensus of the practitioner community’.

SkillsActive has assured the group that its ‘concern will be included in the (NOS) consultation report’.

The letter to Skillsactive from the steering group for a new vehicle for playwork can be read here.

Playwork group challenges Skillsactive standards’ review

7 Oct
National Occupational Standards Review ‘a breach of trust’, alleges scrutiny group
Photo: M. Conway

Will the current standards review turn playwork practice on its head?           Photo: M. Conway

The Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group (PPSG), convened and hosted by the national body, Play Wales, is alleging a ‘breach of trust between SkillsActive and the playwork profession’ if the sector skills council goes ahead with its proposed revision of the National Occupational Standards for Playwork.

In a statement on the Play Wales website, the group calls for the new ‘Values, Behaviours and Skills’ statements proposed for the new standards to be abandoned, as they contradict, in places, the established Play Work Principles, which, says the group, ‘describe what is unique about playwork… have been universally adopted and … are referenced in job descriptions, induction programmes and organisational policies and procedures’

Play Wales is urging anyone with an interest, and who shares the concerns raised by the Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group, to respond to SkillsActive’s consultation by Thursday 8 October 2015.

The Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group statement can be read here

More information about the Skillsactive consultation can be read here

Remaking the case for government action on play

1 Oct

A new book by Adrian Voce tells the story of the Play Strategy for England – and why it is more relevant than ever.

Policy for play final

Format: Paperback, 169 pages, 216 x 138 mm
ISBN 9781447319429
Publication date: 28 October 2015

When the United Nations issued a general comment in 2013 about children’s right to play, it observed that this part of its 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) had been widely neglected by policy-makers. The international play movement had long dubbed article 31 of the CRC, children’s ‘forgotten right’; and, while General Comment (GC) 17, in elaborating government obligations to ‘respect, protect and fulfil’ the right to play under international law, was hailed by advocates as a breakthrough, the indifference – not only of those in power, but of the political class and its commentariat in general – tended to confirm this view.

The underwhelming response of policy makers to GC17 was as evident in Britain as anywhere. Yet, over the preceding decade – at least until 2010 – in Scotland, Northern Ireland and especially Wales, play advocates had been making big strides with their respective devolved administrations. And in 2008, five years before the UN issued its thoughts on the matter, the UK government itself produced a 12-year plan to ‘make England the best place in the world to grow up’ by bringing play, for the first time, to centre-stage of its child policy: recognising that playing children were at the heart of any shared vision for a liveable, people-centred public realm.

The 2008 Play Strategy set out the government’s long-term plan for every residential area in England to have a variety of inclusive, open access play spaces – staffed and unstaffed – and for children’s local neighbourhoods to be safe, welcoming places to play. The initial investment of £235m (building on a £155m lottery programme that had begun in 2006), was to be just the beginning of a wide-ranging strategy that would embrace planning, housing, highways, policing and parks, as well as schools and after-school childcare, in the challenge to make public space and public services more cognisant of and responsive to every child’s innate need and desire to play, free from the pressures and expectations of adult society.

The financial crash that was unfolding at the same time as these plans were being announced – and the subsequent change of government in 2010 – brought a swift and premature end to this vision, with the Coalition’s, and the now the Conservative government’s ‘Big Society’ policy proving no substitute for strategic investment in the public services and public space where children might play.

‘this book needed to be written … a key resource for play advocates and policy-makers everywhere’

– Professor Roger Hart

Policy for Play tells the story of the play strategy for England: its origins within the adventure playground movement and the emerging profession of playwork; the long campaign to have it adopted as part of the New Labour government’s children’s services reforms; and its premature termination by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, sacrificed to deficit reduction and education orthodoxy, before even its early pathfinder programme had been evaluated.

Policy for Play, published in October by Policy Press, argues that space for children should be a government priority. Photo: A. Voce

Policy for Play, published in October by Policy Press, argues that space for children should be a government priority. Photo: A. Voce

Far from simply recounting this uniquely British detour in social policy and its early demise after the financial crash, however, Policy for Play argues that the aims and principles of the play strategy should be revisited; to consider afresh the evidence for concerted government action on play; to take account of interim developments such as the play policy now in full flow in Wales, where sufficient play provision is now a statutory duty of local government; and to properly assess the true value to society of seriously investing in a child-friendly, playable public realm – and the real costs of not doing so.

The book makes the case that the scarcity of space allowed to children, the pressures on their time and the relentlessly decreasing opportunities for them to play are, after five years of austerity, more acute than ever; and that leaving children’s play at the bottom of the list of policy priorities is as short-sighted as it is irrational and self-defeating.

Play advocates – on good grounds – tend to argue that children’s right to play is based on its intrinsic importance to their lives now: that the most evident benefits of playing are immediate. Policy for Play argues that there is also ample evidence that playing is vital to children’s wellbeing, development and future life chances; and that not addressing the decline in children’s freedom to play undermines whatever efforts are being made to improve their health, educational and other outcomes.

Whether for its own sake – for children’s right to enjoy their childhood – or for its important role in maintaining good mental and physical health and supporting children’s capacity to learn, this book makes an impassioned plea to policy-makers, and to wider adult society, to take play as seriously as children do themselves; to put policy for play back on the agenda and renew the commitment to make our country the best place in the world to grow up.

As the children’s rights academic, Professor Roger Hart says in his foreword to Policy for Play:

‘this book needed to be written. As well as providing a road map for all who want England to again move forward in improving everyday play opportunities for children, it will also become a key resource for play advocates and policy makers everywhere’.

Policy for Play is published by Policy Press on 28 Oct 2015
Price: £14.99
Readers in North America can order the book from  University of Chicago Press

Policy for Play book scheduled for 28 October publication

30 Sep

Policy for play final

Policy for Play – responding to children’s forgotten right
by Adrian Voce, is to be published by Policy Press on 28 October 2015.

Examining government responsibilities for children’s play under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – and 2013’s general comment on the right to play – the book tells the story of the 2008 play strategy for England as a detailed case study of what government action on play might look like; and how advocates can effectively make the case for it.

It argues that, far from being a relic of a by-gone era of social policy, the model for national government play policy that was pioneered by the play strategy is needed more than ever, and should be adopted by policymakers as an integral component of any sustainable, long-term approach to promoting children’s rights to both enjoy their childhood and to realise their potential.

Policy for Play is described by Professor Roger Hart as ‘ a key resource for play advocates and policy makers everywhere, offering a template for effective, long-term government action in this neglected but crucial area of public life’.

Read more about the book here
Policy for Play can be pre-ordered from Policy PressAn exclusive extract will be published on this blog-site in the coming weeks.

*Subscribe to this Policy for Play blog and receive notice of all future posts to the site.

Children’s rights’ lobby calls for statutory play duty in England

1 Jul

In what may come to be seen as a watershed moment for the campaign for children’s right to play in England, a report published today by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England and endorsed by a wide range of leading children’s rights advocates, including Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and the NSPCC, has called for children’s play provision to become a full statutory duty and policy for play to once again become a specific responsibility of the national government.

The report, entitled UK implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: civil society alternative report, 2015, to the UN Committee, England highlights the detrimental effect on children of austerity measures across a wide spectrum of their lives, including the hugely disproportionate reduction in play services and the closure of many playgrounds after the abandonment of the Play Strategy in 2010.

The Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, once a member of the Children’s Play Council’s executive committee, was due to speak at the report’s launch in Parliament later today, 1st July.




Child’s play? Investing in the young despite austerity

26 Jun
This guest blog by Andrew Ross, which he has adapted from his LGiU briefing to local authority members and officers, succinctly sets out some of the arguments for maintaining play provision in the face of pressure for further cuts.


Readers of this blog will be acutely aware of the threats to playgrounds and to play services. The London Play & Youth Work Campaign has come out fighting, warning the new government that it must:

‘recognise the profound value of play and youth work to society. If not, then be warned: cutting us will not be an easy ride.’

It’s not as if this ‘profound value’ is a secret. I recently wrote a briefing for local authority members of the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), an organisation that aims to improve local democracy. I pulled together the findings from two recent reviews that caution local councils against cutting money for play because of the many wider benefits that play services bring. The first was by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Fit and Healthy Childhood. Adrian Voce has written about the APPG approach, set out in its first paper, Healthy Patterns for Healthy Families; and about its forthcoming play review, expected later this summer.

The other – The Play Return – was commissioned by the Children’s Play Policy Forum and written by Tim Gill. Tim cites the many developmental benefits for children of play. But he also points out that play could be a prudent investment for other reasons too. Play initiatives:

  • encourage volunteering and community cohesion: the review illustrates a number of examples of where this has happened, including Playing Out schemes
  • reduce antisocial behaviour and vandalism: Thames Valley Police have reported that installing youth facilities in Banbury led to a 25 per cent drop in the cost of repairs to children’s play equipment
  • reduce obesity: one study has found that children with a playground in a local park are ‘almost five times more likely to be classified as being of a healthy weight rather than at risk of being overweight’ than those without playgrounds in their nearby park
  • create healthier places: providing enticing outdoor play spaces can make a trip to the local park more inviting for children and their carers, and is one way of making it easier for people to maintain good health
  • reduce inequalities: public parks are – or should be – free to use, and are places where any child can play regardless of their family’s income.


It’s tempting to think that the arguments speak for themselves. But local authorities are under enormous pressure to cut budgets. For example, government figures show that council spending on open spaces (excluding national parks) fell by 14 per cent, or almost £15.5 million between 2009-10 and 2013-14. In practice, that means councils have already reduced funding on maintaining parks, adventure playgrounds, sports fields and a whole range of services that go on in them.

How can they be persuaded to keep spending on play? I think elected members need to be reminded constantly of how increasing the opportunities for play can help create the sorts of communities that councils are elected to deliver, even as budgets continue to decline: places that are attractive to live in, safe, connected and where everyone feels like they have a stake in the local area.

This means making spending on play part of something bigger. One example is Knowsley Council’s Green Space Strategy (2015-2020). It acknowledges the many benefits of providing outdoor play spaces, but recognises that funding to maintain and develop these is under threat. The strategy focuses on what the council can influence:

  • Leadership: this starts with the council and elected members but should draw in people from public, private and social enterprise sectors (which could include representatives from the play sector)
  • Achieving more with partners: including local communities, but also working with other stakeholders to create new management partnerships (again, the play sector could have an influential role here)
  • Establishing a compelling business case for investing in green space assets: Knowsley believes that its future economic resilience and competitiveness ‘will be strongly influenced’ by the overall quality of its parks and green spaces
  • Securing funding and investment: Knowsley is developing a needs-based approach that will allow it to assess how best to continue to invest in green spaces and services
  • Identifying alternative delivery models: these are likely to include private funding, support from the community and voluntary sectors, generating more income from uses of the green spaces, and fund-raising/sponsorship.

As for what limited spending there will be on play specifically, what might be the biggest wins for any investment? The former director of Play England Cath Prisk writes that:

‘The onus will be on local providers, schools and councils to make the case that is right for them to increase or sustain investment in most provision.’

She suggests three possibilities:

  • Street Play (championed by the Bristol-based Playing Out), where streets are closed regularly so children can play – this achieves multiple objectives of play, physical activity, and community cohesion – ‘not free, but certainly not a huge expense’
  • Encouraging head teachers to use some of the pupil premium and protected school funding to invest in spaces to play because of the evidence that play and outdoor activity improves attainment (most particularly for this funding in reading and maths)
  • More outdoor nurseries utilising existing quality outdoor spaces following the government’s commitment to double the free childcare allowance for three- and four-year-olds in England.

I’d be really interested to know how well the local authority in your area understands how play connects to some of the wider arguments about creating decent places to live, and whether that is reflected in their spending plans! Feel free to leave me a comment below, or tweet me at @andrew_ross_uk.

This blog was written by Andrew Ross, a freelance writer, researcher and facilitator specialising in urban places, It is an abridged version of an LGiU briefing, available to members only. For more information, or to subscribe, visit

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