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A situated ethos of playwork

21 Jun

Turning the playwork story into a narrative for change.

In this new collaboration, Adrian Voce and Gordon Sturrock cast their collective eye over the recent history of playwork in the UK to draw out some lessons for the field on how it might regroup and take a leading role in making the case for a comprehensive national play policy: one consistent with its distinct ethos and approach. 

Abstract

Playwork is a distinct approach to working with children, and a particular set of perspectives on the nature of children’s play in a broader context. We concur with others (e.g. Brown, 2017) that its theory and practice – on play and development, constructs of childhood, the role of adults with children, the allocation and use of space, and children’s rights – are unique among the children’s professions.

This paper attempts to describe some of these perspectives, the practice tenets that arise from them, and the distinct ethos we suggest they comprise. We then propose a broad rationale for playwork advocacy, ­congruent with this ethos and its political dimension.

Vision

We also attempt to set out a long-term vision for the place of playwork practice within a renewed, reimagined public realm; and we suggest some specific shorter-term, more tangible objectives, towards the aim of formulating a sustained government policy framework that recognises and supports playwork without compromising it: achievable milestones on a roadmap to the longer-term vision.

Through a critical appraisal of the field’s recent history, the paper considers how organisational structures for playwork advocacy and professional development have, until now, with the odd exception, been ultimately run not by practitioners but by various branches of government, its agents, employer bodies or established children’s charities – generally more aligned with the current hegemony than with anything approximating to the playwork ethos. We argue that, in the absence of a cohesive and authoritative playwork representative body, this has led to near fatal compromises in the development and dissemination of the playwork approach.

Conundrum

The paper addresses the perennial conundrum of a community of practice that profoundly challenges the status quo; yet which, nevertheless, needs to find sufficient leverage in the mainstream policy discourse to secure the resources it needs to sustain its work. As the professional playwork fraternity attempts to regroup after eight years of austerity and UK government policy reversals, we suggest there is an urgent need for the field to coalesce around a binding narrative – accommodating the plurality of perspectives and approaches that have evolved – to explicitly articulate its ethos in a way that can both speak to a wide public audience and impact on the policymaking process.

The paper concludes that the framework for this narrative should be children’s rights, refracted through the prism of the playwork ethos, which is a bulwark against instrumentalist agendas. We suggest that the playwork field, though greatly incapacitated by the dismantling of its infrastructure and the closure of many of its services and courses, has a legitimate claim to be the practice community best qualified to interpret General Comment 17 of the UNCRC (CRC, 2013) for the UK context. We propose that fully engaging with the rights discourse is the logical strategy for playwork advocates; aligning our ethos to an authoritative, coherent policy case that also resonates with a wider political narrative of social and spatial justice, universal human rights and full citizenship for all.

Adrian Voce and Gordon Sturrock
June 2018

Download the full paper here

Adrian Voce is a founding trustee of the Playwork Foundation. His contribution to this paper is in his personal capacity and does not represent the collective view of the charity.

Photo: Adrian Voce (Tiverton adventure playground, Devon).

This paper was first published by the Playwork Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

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An organisation that reflects who we are

25 Nov
6. tango swing

Photo: Meriden Adventure Playground

When Penny Wilson was asked to speak at the recent Playwork Foundation launch event, she took her brief seriously; consulting with colleagues and deeply reflecting, both on her practice and on the chequered history of playwork representation. The result was this impassioned entreaty for an organisation that can do justice to the extraordinary work that playworkers do, and live up to the principles by which they stand.


Read Penny’s speech at The Playwork Foundation.

Playwork Foundation Launch Event – 8 November

23 Oct

Jump

Wednesday, 8 November 2017
1.00 – 4.30 pm
Goldsmiths, University of London, SE14

Free, with refreshments

Room number RHB 300
Goldsmiths College
New Cross
London, SE14 6NW

 Speakers include

Professor Fraser Brown, Penny Wilson, Adrian Voce and Meynell

The Playwork Foundation is launching a membership scheme and to mark the occasion, this event is an opportunity to hear different perspectives on the playwork field and its challenges. There will be round-table discussions about the importance of the profession, its future and what is most needed from a new membership body.

The Playwork Foundation is being created as a membership body for the playwork community, offering playwork practitioners, trainers, students, researchers and others:

  • A collective voice to raise awareness about the value of play and playwork
  • A platform to promote and debate issues that affect playwork
  • A strong, credible representative vehicle to make the argument for playwork to policy-makers, the media and the world at large
  • A network for mutual support, dissemination of research, and sharing good practice.

Please join us! To reserve a place email kbenjamin@glos.ac.uk

Photo: Mick Conway

Playwork Foundaion Logo

 

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…

View original post 361 more words

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

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.

Why we need the Playwork Foundation

13 Jul

In this adapted version of an article originally published in the International Journal of Play, Adrian Voce places the establishment of the Playwork Foundation in its historical context, and sugge…

Source: Why we need the Playwork Foundation

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