Men in power

16 Oct

Adrian Voce comments:

We may feel that our field is too progressive and liberal to be implicated in the epidemic of misogynistic and predatory male behaviour that is so evidently plaguing others. The courageous Morgan Leichter-Saxby is here to tell us to think again. If women in our profession cannot feel safe, respected and valued as much as their male counterparts, shame on us. We have much work to do.

Play Everything

There’s been lots written lately about sexual abuse by men in positions of power. My Facebook feed is packed with women saying ‘me too’. It’s a start, breaking silence and raising hands, seeing the numbers. But it isn’t enough – I want more stories too, of shock and complacency, choked-down rage and whispered warnings. I don’t only want to know about the women who have left situations as they turned nasty, but also those who stayed and the terrible bargains they were asked to strike. I want to hear from women who watched and said nothing.

Because, me too.

For the past decade I’ve been in a majority-women field. It thinks of itself as progressive or radical, dedicated to subverting systems of oppression and with a whole vocabulary around reading cues and responding appropriately. But the stories of sexual abuse and coercion coming out of other industries are not aberrations…

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London conference: Children’s Play in the Urban Environment, 6-7 November

16 Oct

Playground460x276

Adrian Voce will host this Child in the City international seminar at Goldsmiths University of London on 6-7 November 2017.

It has never been harder for children and young people in the modern city to find somewhere to play or meet with their friends, due to the following issues:

  • the seemingly ever-growing dominance of traffic and commerce
  • increasing urban populations
  • economic pressures on public space and
  • austerity policies leading to the closure of many playgrounds and youth clubs

On 6-7 November 2017 the Child in the City International Seminar will focus on these emerging issues by addressing the theme ‘Children’s Play in the Urban Environment’. The seminar will look at the latest research on children’s play and young people’s culture and its relationship to health and wellbeing trends.

Diverse programme and audience

Child in the City International Seminars is a rolling programme of focused events, each bringing together practitioners, children’s professionals, play workers, city planners, landscape architects, geographers and policymakers, along with researchers, academics and advocates, researchers and policymakers from different relevant fields around a specific theme of the child-friendly city agenda.

With the seemingly ever-growing dominance of traffic and commerce, increasing urban populations, economic pressures on public space, and austerity policies leading to the closure of many playgrounds and youth clubs, it has never been harder for children and young people in the modern city to find somewhere to play or meet with their friends.

Latest research

The outside world of the urban landscape is widely considered unsafe for younger children while teenagers themselves are often viewed as a threat to public order. Yet the freedom to enjoy their own play and recreation, to participate with their peers in the cultural and social life of their neighbourhoods, towns and cities is a human right for all children and young people, recognised in international law.

 This second Child in the City international seminar will look at some of the latest research on children’s play and young people’s culture in the modern city and its relationship to health and wellbeing trends.

The seminar will consider policy options and explore good practice examples –through presentations from around the world and field trips to projects in London – on how different cities are addressing this most quintessential of children’s rights: to grow up in a community that recognises and supports their need to play and be with their friends – without adult pressure or agendas, but within shared, intergenerational urban landscapes that allow the whole community to thrive.

For more information click on the image below

citclondonrectangle2

National survey marks 30 years of Playday

12 Jul

IMG_2861Playday will be 30 years old this August and the four national play organisations in the UK that coordinate the event have launched a survey to mark the anniversary. The survey canvasses opinions on how play has changed in the UK over the last thirty years. However, the response, particularly in England, has to date been below expectations.

In a recent circular the Playday group says that ‘although we already have over 1000 responses, the response rate is much lower in England than in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We are keen to try and boost responses (throughout the UK, but particularly in England) in advance of the 21st July deadline.

The survey invitation from the Playday group appears below.


Complete the Playday survey here

play-day-logo

What do you think about playing today and how have play opportunities changed for children, families and communities through time? We want to hear what you think. Playday, the national day to celebrate play, is 30 years old this year.

The national organisations that promote play in the UK want to find out how play opportunities have changed over these years and need your help. Could you spare some time to complete an online survey?

Please visit  ​to complete the survey here and share this link with your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Help us understand the nature of play in the UK today and how this has changed over the last 30 years.

The Playday survey will close on 21 July 2017.
Playday this year will be on 2 August. More information can be found here

Parties for play?

24 May

Bubbles LondonThe UN (2016) has been clear – and a range of evidence confirms – that the UK government needs to commit to doing more for children’s play. This should include: protecting play space through a more child-friendly planning system; supporting the country’s diminishing network of world-renowned adventure playgrounds; and adopting playwork standards for after-school and holiday care. Adrian Voce poses some questions for politicians seeking election in June.

The government has characterised its snap general election (revealing the fixed-term Parliament Act to be essentially meaningless) as the most important for decades, positioning it as an opportunity for the country to unite behind the ‘strong and stable leadership’ of Theresa May in order to give her the clear mandate she says she needs to strike the best deal with the EU in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations. Labour – still by a long way the main opposition party during the last Parliament – has attempted to broaden the debate, making it about the kind of government we want, and who it is primarily for: ‘the many’ or ‘the few’.

What are play advocates to make of the different approaches of these and the other parties fielding credible candidates? Who is likely to be the most sympathetic to the case for play policy? Children and their families have the right to a safe, playable, child-friendly public realm – something that was promised to them 10 years ago (DCSF, 2008) only to be abandoned in the wake of the financial crisis. Play advocates not willing to accept the current dearth of play policy as the status quo should be asking the parties vying for parents’ votes some questions about their intentions for play.

What is your party’s policy on children’s right to play?

Play Strategy cover2The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has issued a general comment (2013) on states’ obligations under Article 31 of its 1989 convention. This makes clear that children’s right to play must be ‘recognised, protected and fulfilled’ for them by government policy, which should include planning, finance and legislation as necessary. Yet, in 2016, the UNCRC reported its ‘concern about the withdrawal of a play policy in England and the under-funding of play’ across the UK. This followed The Children’s Rights Alliance for England reporting to the UNCRC that since 2010 the UK government had in fact ‘undermined children’s rights under Article 31 …’

The government should now, at the very least, be monitoring the effectiveness and the impact of the statutory play sufficiency duty in Wales to explore its potential for replication in England. A full commitment to article 31 would involve following the recommendation of the All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood to reintroduce a cross-cutting national play strategy like the one for England that was abandoned in 2010.

What plans do you have to enable children to enjoy the freedom to play outside in the public spaces near their homes?

There has been an accumulation of evidence in recent years and decades, of the changing nature of modern childhoods, with many children no longer having the freedom to play outside that previous generations could take for granted. The reasons for this are varied and complex, with traffic, anxiety about ‘stranger-danger’, fear of crime and bullying, commercialisation of pubic space, overly structured out-of-school lives, poor planning, and the lure of electronic media each being cited as the cause of a generation of ‘battery-reared children’.

Whatever the combination of reasons, there is no doubt that, to reverse this trend – a profound change in the way that children grow up, with consequences that we cannot yet fully perceive – will take a concerted and cohesive effort, coordinated within a number of different public policy domains, and informed by a clear vision and strong commitment to a playable, liveable, child-friendly public realm.

What plans do you have to protect the UKs valuable network of staffed adventure playgrounds and other community play projects?

IMG_2314With play infrastructure bodies like Play England and the playwork unit at Skillsactive being among the first casualties of ‘deficit reduction’, it is difficult to gain a full picture of spending on play since the end of the Play Strategy (2008-10), but there is no question that children’s play services have been a major victim of austerity. Various surveys have showed cuts of up to 100 per cent in local authority play budgets, and an average reduction of more than 50 per cent from 2010-15. Play academic Wendy Russell estimates that there are now fewer than 150 adventure playgrounds remaining, with many of these still facing cuts.

What would your government do to maintain standards in after-school and holiday play schemes so that children are supported to enjoy their leisure time and not effectively forced to endure 8-10 hour school days?

Children should be able to play freely after school in whatever environment they find themselves. Playwork is the only profession dedicated to this, but the deregulation of extended services and out-of-school provision for children aged 8 and over means that it is no longer recognised, let alone required by inspectors, who therefore apply school performance criteria to a domain that should be for children’s play. School-aged childcare, after-school clubs and ‘extended services’ should contain a basic offer of playwork provision, appropriately staffed by qualified practitioners; and should also provide enriched play environments, including a requirement for outdoor space, as identified by good playwork practice.

Adrian Voce

Adrian Voce is the author of Policy for Play (Policy Press, 2015)


A synthesis of these questions has been addressed to each of the main parties in the election. We will publish any replies here; and also, over the remaining days of the campaign, examine each of the parties’ manifestos for any signs of an emergent play policy, as well as considering the wider question of their position on children’s rights in general.


References 

CRC, 2016, Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Department for Schools and Families, 2008, The Play Strategy, London: Crown Copyright.


Main photo: Nate Edwards
Inset photo: Adrian Voce
Play Strategy image: HM Government

Scottish Parliament debates national play charter

16 Mar

Edinburgh children play

The Scottish Parliament has debated the country’s first Play Charter, developed and promoted by Play Scotland, the national play charity. Adrian Voce reports.

A motion to support Scotland’s first Play Charter, developed by Play Scotland, was debated in the Scottish Parliament on 14 March 2017. It was proposed by Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), Ruth Maguire of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

The motion (paraphrased) said that:

‘Parliament welcomes the promotion of Scotland’s first inclusive Play Charter by Play Scotland … understands that the charter describes a collective commitment to play for all babies, children and young people in Scotland, in line with the right of children to play as set in out in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

‘(Parliament) further understands that the charter builds on the Scottish Government’s National Play Strategy … notes the charter’s aims of highlighting that every child has the right to play … ensuring that a commitment to play is more strongly embedded within policies, strategies, key qualifications and … training, ensuring that children and young people are supported in their right to play and that play spaces are valued within communities…’

The motion also encouraged all SMPs to become ‘Play Champions’ by pledging their support to the charter.

‘Not built to sit still’

The debate included a contribution from Conservative SMP Brian Whittle, who said:

“Children are not built to sit still … that brings us to the importance of active play—especially in the early years. As I have said before, youngsters want to move about a lot with their peers. In doing so, they set patterns for life and learn interaction skills, confidence, resilience, self-awareness and awareness of others—all behaviours that are much more difficult to learn sitting still in a nursery or classroom …

“We have not got that right yet. We need to consider how we give every child the opportunity for outdoor and indoor play: climbing, jumping—in puddles, if necessary—falling down, getting back up, catching, throwing and all the other ways that they can invent to learn in their own ways. That is the blueprint for life. That is how we tackle preventable ill health and stack the cards in our favour.

“That all starts with access to active play, and with the premise that it is every child’s right to play with their friends, get dirty, be noisy and be sociable, irrespective of background or personal circumstances—all the things that we took for granted when we were kids. In my view, that is the basis of solving many of the problems that we see in our society today”.

‘Open schools during summer holiays’

Labour’s Daniel Johnson said that, although the play strategy is right:

“We also need to set out the challenges. One in six children in Scotland does not have access to outdoor space, 85 per cent of children in Scotland say that they do not spend enough time engaged in free play, and more than 1,000 Scottish schools have no access to outdoor facilities … we need talk about local services and the impact of local funding.

“We must have some innovation. Schemes such as playing out will come at little cost to local government. We should consider whether we should be opening our schools during summer holidays in order to enable play and to address issues of childcare in the holidays. We also need to talk about local services. If we are to have accessible and stimulating parks in which our children can play, that requires investment in local services”.

Speaking for the Scottish Government, Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald MSP, said:

“The Government continues to invest in play and, this year alone, we have invested more than £3 million in it. That includes funding of £700,000 for Play, Talk, Read, £1.6 million for the book-bug programme and £260,000 for Play Scotland, plus a host of other fantastic initiatives.

‘Giving parents peace of mind’

“Since 2012, we have invested more than £3 million in Inspiring Scotland’s go2play play ranger fund. The fund supports Scottish charities to develop play ranger provision for vulnerable children and disadvantaged groups and to engage them in active outdoor play. Play rangers provide a huge number of benefits not only for our children but for parents and communities, by enabling children to play in spaces that are familiar to them, such as their street or local park, while giving parents peace of mind and encouraging positive interaction between children and the wider community”.

The minister thanked Play Scotland and the play strategy implementation group for working with the government “to create and enhance the fundamental building blocks that will enable and inform a more playful Scotland in which children can realise their right to play every day” He welcomed the play charter, saying “it will help us to further embed the principles of the play strategy, and … encourage us to commit to play as an essential ingredient of children’s wellbeing”.

Adrian Voce

Photo: Dov Rob


Read Scotland’s Play Charter here
Read the full Scottish Parliament debate on the Play Charter here

Space to Play symposium

15 Mar
Adrian Voce OBE will lead a symposium on children’s play, with artist Mark Neville, at the Foundling Museum in central London on 20 March 2017

The importance of time and space for children to play is established across a range of scientific disciplines, with a child’s right to play recognised in international law. Yet play is rarely a priority for government, planners or developers. Public spaces are increasingly privatised, and in the age of austerity, the play projects and services that bridge this deficit, such as adventure playgrounds, are often first in line for closure. As part of Child’s Play, this symposium explores how we provide for this universal right, asks why space to play is not better protected within the public realm, and considers what can or should be done to afford all children the space to play. The day will include a tour of the exhibition, led by Mark Neville, revealing the stories behind his work.

Speakers and papers include:

  • Play, Politics and the Right to the City, Dr. Wendy Russell, University of Gloucester
  • Making Space for Childhood, Maisie Rowe, Space for Childhood
  • The Subversive Potentials of Play and Art: challenging disciplinarian and austere horizons, Lucy Benson, Islington Play Association
  • The Invisible Barrier Beyond the Front Door: traffic’s impact on children’s play, belonging and social life in the streets where they live, Alice Ferguson, Playing Out
  • Stop Play Pause, Jack James, South London Gallery and Betsy Dadd & Lydia CS, Kaleidoworks
  • Secure Places, Secure Spaces, and Secure Faces: attachment at the heart of play, Mark Coulson and Andrea Oskis, Middlesex University
  • Shirley Baker: an abundance of children (with the occasional woman and man), Anna Douglas, University of Leeds
  • The Value of Investing in Our Children, Marion Briggs, Alliance for Childhood

Adrian Voce is the author of Policy for Play (Policy Press, 2015) and President of the European Network for Child-friendly Cities. After a long career as a playworker, he was the first Director of London Play (1998-2004), securing policy commitments for children’s play from the London Mayor. As Director of the Children’s Play Council and then Play England (2004-2011) he was key in securing almost £350m of public funding for children’s play. He has produced a number of influential publications and appeared often in the national media speaking and writing about play policy. He was awarded an OBE for services to children in 2011.

Mark Neville is a British artist who has had solo exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum and the Photographers’ Gallery. He works at the intersection of art and documentary, investigating the social function of photography. His photographic projects to date have frequently made the communities he portrays the primary audience for the work. In 2012 the Andy Warhol Museum exhibited a body of newly commissioned photographic works by Neville which focused upon issues of race and the legacy of the steel industry in Pittsburgh. In the same year The New York Times Magazine commissioned Neville to make the critically acclaimed photo essay Here Is London, which they subsequently nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.


Space to Play – a symposium

The Foundling Museum
40 Brunswick Square
London WC1N 1AZ
20 March 2017
9:30 – 16:30
Tickets £20 (£15 concessions & Foundling Friends)
To book a place, please click here

The Foundling Museum is a registered charity and all income from ticket sales supports its work.

Withdrawing qualifications is another blow to playwork

14 Mar

Play England has reported that CACHE (Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education) has closed its Level 2 Award and Certificate, Level 3 Award and Level 4 Award and Certificate qualifications to new registrations. The other main awarding organisation, City and Guilds are also now only open for registrations of full Diplomas at levels 2, 3, and 5, although they are still offering the Level 4 Award. All of these qualifications, for both awarding organisations, are only available for registration until November 2017.

According to Play England, these qualifications, vital to the growth of a professional playwork sector for two decades, no longer fit within the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) that replaced the former Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) under the Coalition Government.

Under the RQF, the ‘stepping stone’ awards and certificates, which could previously lead incrementally to full diplomas via the credit system, is being phased out. Thus, when existing qualifications come up for renewal, unless they are suitable for conversion to the new framework they are being withdraw, in spite of many playworkers and their employers preferring the modular approach.

Prospects

But the prospects of playwork in England adapting to this new context are affected by a funding squeeze. With registrations for playwork qualifications declining because of a dearth of available finance, awarding organisations are finding it harder to make the business case for the development of new ones. At a roundtable meeting at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne last week, co-hosted by Play England and the Playwork Foundation, it was agreed to lobby CACHE and City and Guilds, to extend registration of the level 2, 3 and 5 qualifications beyond the end of the current year. The two organisations have written to the awarding bodies and are encouraging playwork trainers and employers to do the same.

Nicola Butler, chair of Play England, says: ‘Playwork is a highly skilled job. Parents, playworkers and employers all want the playwork profession to have the training that is needed for the job, but while most playwork employers would like to be able to invest more in professional development of their workforce but are prevented from doing so by the lack of public funding’.

So what are the reasons for this decline in the playwork sector after so many years of growth? One factor is the partial de-regulation of the school-age play and childcare sector. Since September 2014, there has been no statutory requirement for out-of-school clubs and holiday play-schemes to employ staff with ‘full and relevant’ childcare or playwork qualifications. (Over-8s and open-access providers have never been required to register).

Cuts

At least as significant as the change in regulatory requirements has been the effect of cuts to local authority play services, which in many places have been withdrawn altogether.  A 2014 report showed that capital and revenue spending on children’s play by England’s local authorities from 2010-13 fell by 50% and 61% respectively and it is clear that deep cuts have continued.

Many believe that playwork is now in something of an existential crisis, certainly in England. 10 years ago, the first phase of a 10-year national play strategy included funding to qualify 4,000 playworkers and a new graduate level qualification for playwork managers. Since then, the government has, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, ‘undermined’ children’s right to play by abandoning the play strategy and not having a minister with responsibility for play policy for the first time since the 1980s; a situation that remains, in spite of the calls for a wide ranging national play policy by an All Party Parliamentary Group on children’s health in 2015.

What does all this mean for children? Most obviously, vital play services such as staffed adventure playgrounds (where playwork originated) are being closed. In some places these are being replaced with fixed equipment play areas, as in Watford; in others, such as Battersea Park, children can now indulge in ‘tree-top adventures’ for between £20 – £38 a session, where they used to play for free on structures that they had helped to build. Wendy Russell of the University of Gloucestershire estimates there only 150 traditional adventure playgrounds remaining in Britain, compared to around 500 at their peak; and with the erosion of playwork training and the on-gong pressures on funding, she has called those that remain an ‘endangered species’.

Extended schools

Less apparently, but perhaps even more significantly (certainly for larger numbers of children) the removal of a requirement for qualified staff means that children attending after-school and holiday play services – not voluntarily, let’s remember, but because their parents need to work – are now much more likely to be supervised either by classroom assistants or staff with no training at all; often on school premises.

When Labour introduced the concept of ‘wrap-around’ services as a key development of its ‘childcare revolution’, it was quick to distance itself from the term ‘extended schools’; but what the abandonment of playwork practice as the benchmark for quality in out-of-school provision means for many children, is that they are now effectively in school for up to 10 hours a day.


 A New Playwork Apprenticeship

The one area of potential growth for the playwork training sector is apprenticeships. The government is introducing an Apprenticeship Levy, although most small centres are not eligible for this funding unless subcontracted by larger providers. On this point, the Playwork Foundation is concerned that a high proportion of the few larger centres offering playwork apprenticeships employ trainers and assessors who are ‘not occupationally competent’.

A group of playwork employers has submitted an expression of interest to develop a new Playwork Trailblazer apprenticeship, which aims to: enable employers to access playwork apprenticeships; clarify what they should cover; develop the skills needed for quality playwork provision; and reinforce that they need to be delivered by trainers and assessors fully competent in playwork.

Adrian Voce

An edited version of this article was published in Children and Young People Now on 14 March 2017

This article is about playwork qualifications in England. For an overview of the situation in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales read this

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