If ‘play’s the thing’ we must start with a radical rethink of child policy

17 Nov

Adrian Voce suggests that the new ‘Play Ethic’ should get first things first and challenge the government’s wellbeing agenda to start with children’s play.

There is an interesting two-day conference in London next week, which seems to be aimed at taking on and progressing the wellbeing agenda from the perspective of a new ‘play ethic’ – to inform and progress a new way of working that fosters creativity and innovation and perhaps, therefore, leads to a new and more sustainable economics. It is called Play’s the Thing. But don’t get too excited – children’s play doesn’t seem to feature.

One of the organisers, Pat Kane (the Play Ethic) wrote about the conference themes in the Guardian this week and  asserts the importance of fostering cooperation, innovation and creativity, not as touchy-feely ideals, but necessary components of more sustainable, people-centred business and economic models.  But Although Kane is right to reject the knee-jerk dismissal of the wellbeing agenda, and for all his welcome exposition of a play ethic, he and the other conference organisers appear to be missing one obvious and primary point.

This government has quietly torn up a ten-year plan to create more space for play in the lives of our citizens who need it most: children. Kane makes no reference to the abandoned Play Strategy, nor indeed to children’s play at all. Neither do there appear to be any  contributors to the conference from the fields of playwork, play therapy or children’s geographies.

This looks like an opportunity lost. Without a rebalancing of priorities in child policy, which is now dominated more than ever by narrowly defined notions of old school education and how it is delivered, the play ethic risks remaining a talking point, or at best a more enjoyable way to work for a cultural and intellectual elite. The true value of play for our culture and our society will only begin to be realised with the reinstatement of opportunities to play at the centre of all children’s lives, including the way they are educated and cared for.

The Play Strategy began to do this, and so a robust dialogue with this Government’s wellbeing agenda should start with the simple question: what, David Cameron, is your government doing about the steady erosion of children’s freedom to play?

Adrian Voce

6 Responses to “If ‘play’s the thing’ we must start with a radical rethink of child policy”

  1. Jess Milne 17 November 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    There needs to be a shake up in thinking and political pressure concerning the whole case of Children’s Play and Play deprivation , if we in whats loosely called the Play movement are backed by the modern theoretical framework are to be heard . I would add to the question to David Cameron and his Government “…..and what is your government doing about children’s Right to play and have you calculated the cost of Play Deprivation in terms of Health , mental well-being and planning the future?


  2. Marc Armitage 17 November 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I think its right that we ask this question of David Cameron and that he be encouraged to answer. I think we could predict what his answer would be: a combination of ‘Yes, play is important – but that’s a local authority responsibility’, and ‘Our education system is first class and our early years provision particularly is all based on learning through play’.

    Of course both miss the point.

    I do think the well-being agenda is a productive route for us to go down, though, simply because it highlights the day-to-dayness of children’s lives as being a key part in their healthy and happy development into becoming the flexible units of productivity that governments want. ‘Playing’ as one of the key, if not the key, element of choice in children’s lives seems an obvious core to that day-to-dayness/well-being agenda. That’s what the current Conservatives in government seemed to recognise in ‘More Ball Games’.

    But there is a problem. Associating ‘freedom’ with play and with well-being is completely at odds with the current mood where freedom is expressed in very narrow and rigid terms (aka the Michael Gove approach). That means that the broader meaning of freedom(s), in a kind of an entitlement sense, are the principle barrier we now face to getting our views across in the current political landscape (for example, that bloody inconvenient Human Rights Act). It’s not even a question of money anymore and I don’t think it’s an argument about ‘play’ per se; we’ve become associated with unnecessary trendiness if not ‘Danger to the Right and True Order of Things’. ‘Yes’, they’ll say, ‘Children are our future, and their future is our future, and we need to change broken Britain, and the social landscape needs help, and happy capable children make happy capable adults … but it all has to be done on our terms, not wishy-washy, lefty, liberal (opps sorry, Nick didn’t see you there) terms.

    Which is another reason for engaging with the well-being agenda because it gives a framework to latch onto that could fit the current mood – measurable things: health outcomes, reduction of crime and disorder, greater education attainment, etc, etc. In other words all the stuff we’ve been pushing for years. But ‘freedom’? … now that way follows anarchy, and that’s not good is it?


    • adrianvoce 17 November 2011 at 1:17 pm #

      Interesting comment Marc, thanks.

      Most policy seems to be reactive rather than proactive, i.e. responding to negative indicators rather than fostering the positive. Thus, perhaps we talk less about freedom and more about the dangers of keeping children cooped up (obesity, depression etc). We certainly always got more coverage when we flagged the dangers. But, as I’m sure Wendy Russell, for one, would say, this tends to play into negative concepts of childhood and fails to recognise their resilience and ability to exercise their own agency.

      It’s always a tough call isn’t it: needing to draw attention to our cause by finding hooks, without those hooks undermining our very argument by pandering to the myths and stereotypes we really want to challenge.

      But, yes, the wellbeing agenda should offer some traction for us, at least in debating terms. Problem is, policy-wise, schools have been freed from it…in England anyway.


    • Jess Milne 17 November 2011 at 4:34 pm #

      lots people round world camping out in grounds that owned by the church [London /Exeter etc ] and some that made it to the financial districts of their cities are asking questions along the lines of freedom and responsibility and they are serious ,I think protest of all sorts will grow in the coming year and a majority will be about freedoms of one kind or another so the red herring of anarchy does not follow really !
      I dont think play is associated with trendiness I dont think in the government its thought about enough to be associated with anything . Will going down the ‘Well being’ agenda provide play with a platform ? Im not sure ….


      • plexity 16 December 2011 at 2:17 pm #

        [posted by me on behalf of an anonymous internet nutter]

        how dare you criticise pat cane look at all the grate work he has done he has written a book, you haven’t and what about Hughie Cry his brilliant jazzpop 80s boyband, they were like Bros only not blond and scottish. I mean he is scottish so you are a racist and we have had several complaints about you writing things about Pat and I’m not going to say who they are but I’m going to get wordpress to stop youre blog because you shouldn’t be allowed onthe internet

        I luv pat cane

        I am the linda he wrote
        looking for linda about you r just jelis

        pat we luv you!



  3. plexity 16 December 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    I have to say, Adrian, that I enjoyed your measured and comprehensive critique of the Pat Kane plaything.


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