Tag Archives: playwork

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

Playwork body warns of fragmentation of training and qualifications

15 Feb

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The Playwork Foundation has warned that changes to the regulatory framework and a steep decline in play services have led to a fragmented landscape for playwork training and qualifications in the UK. The new body, an independent advocate for playwork and playworkers, has produced a briefing paper that aims to clarify the picture in each of the four UK nations. It warns that, ‘despite the needs and wishes of the playwork sector – playworkers, playwork employers and commissioners – for trained and qualified staff, there is now very little funding for playwork qualifications’.

A discussion about the problems facing the playwork training sector – and playworkers seeking qualification – will be hosted by Play England at this year’s National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne on 7-8 March.

Bring back play

21 Jun

by Maisie Rowe

In this guest blog, originally published in this summer’s edition of the Landscape Journal, Maisie Rowe explains how a recent exhibition highlights how much our attitudes to play have changed – and largely not for the better.

Hardly any other modern concept had a more far-reaching and enduring influence than the Skrammellegeplads’, says Gabriela Burkhalter. She is talking about the ‘junk playgrounds’, which were conceived in Denmark by the landscape architect Theodor Sorensen in the 1940s.

Burkhalter is curator of an excellent recent exhibition, The Playground Project, held at the Kunsthalle, Zurich, which reviews a hundred years of playground design through pictures, books and full-size play installations. Her exhibition contained much to inspire the landscape architect, not least by reminding us what design looked like when it was rooted in theories of human development and the belief that play is a right of the child.

The Playground Project in Zurich. Photo: Annik Wetter

The Playground Project in Zurich. Photo: Annik Wetter

Freidrich Froebel, inventor of the kindergarten, wrote: ‘Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.’ Froebel, Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori were just some of the key figures in a discourse that, by recognising childhood as central to human experience, would put children at the heart of the twentieth-century social project. The design of playgrounds took on artistic and social importance: ‘If childhood is a journey, let us see to it the child does not travel by night’, said Aldo van Eyck, who designed around 730 play- grounds for the city of Amsterdam.

‘the twentieth century was not kind to children’

But despite being described as ‘The Century of the Child’, the twentieth century was not kind to children. Conflict and upheaval devastated childhoods and, while the enlightened pedagogues sought to nurture the innate creativity and spirit of each child, cities blindly privileged the motorcar over the child and sacrificed open space to bricks and concrete.

So playground design was always going to be contentious. From early on, it was beset by a tension between mass delivery of practical municipal play facilities and provision that emphasised deep play and contact with nature. Some of the earliest playgrounds were severe, gymnasium- like spaces provided by reformers and philanthropists to engage slum urchins in purposeful activity, once they were liberated by reform from factory labour. By contrast, the progressive designer C. Th. Sørensen spent time watching how children, left to their own devices, played on waste ground, building dens and damming streams.

‘Sørensen said: ‘They (the children) can dream and imagine and make dreams and imagination reality’

Sørensen’s collaborator was Hans Dragehjelm, ‘the father of the sand-box’. They drew inspiration from the German idea of sand play; in Berlin, in the 1850s, huge piles of sand, called sand bergs, had been provided for children to play with. Dragehjelm set up Copenhagen’s first sand playground but Sørensen took the idea further, says Burkhalter: ‘Sørensen made even more room for the creative moment: the children were given materials and tools to build their own worlds.’ Of his ‘junk playground’, established at Emdrup in Copenhagen in 1943, Sørensen said: ‘They (the children) can dream and imagine and make dreams and imagination reality… It is so obvious that the children thrive here and feel well, they unfold and they live.’

An English landscape architect, Lady Allen of Hurtwood, chanced on Sørensen’s project while on a British Council lecture tour through occupied Europe. Lady Allen came from the class of eccentric, posh-but-penniless bohemians. Enamoured of nature, she spotted that these gloriously chaotic environments – with their dens, ropes, bonfires, gardens and animals – offered urban children freedom, self-expression and an outdoor life.

She wrote: ‘In a flash of understanding I realised that I was looking at something quite new and full of possibilities… There was a wealth of waste material… and no man-made fixtures. The children could dig, build houses, experiment with sand, water or fire, and play games of adventure and make-believe.’ Adopting a rallying-cry of ‘Better a broken arm than a broken spirit!’ she reinvented Sørensen’s Skrammellegeplads as ‘adventure playgrounds’.

‘playwork practice evolved into a highly-skilled (but under-valued) profession’

Continental adventure playgrounds are relatively orderly affairs. Small groups of children work assigned plots of land; at Kolle 37 playground in Berlin, children to this day are given 20 nails per session to work with, which they use, re-use or barter. Britain’s adventure playgrounds developed a more anarchic and squalid character – photographs of Clydesdale Road Adventure Playground in the 1950s show children revelling in daubed paint and old sofas – while our playwork practice evolved into a highly-skilled (but under-valued) profession. Sørensen was aware of this contradiction: ‘Of all the things I have helped to realise, the Junk Playground is the ugliest; yet for me it is the best and most beautiful of my works’. It is curious that this most significant of contributions to landscape architecture should be a sort of anti-design; produced by child-builders with the minimum of involvement by the professionalised adult designer, without aesthetic consideration.

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An adventure playground in 1966. Photo: William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images

While it is difficult to escape the sense that playground design today has become formulaic, the Playground Project exhibition reminds us that it need be anything but that by describing a wealth of innovative sculptural forms, derived from an array of design practices. The play sculptures of Josef Schagerl and Egon Møller-Nielsen ‘combined the autonomy-based language of modern sculpture with the goals of play and functionality’, according to Burkhalter. Their underlying anti-elitism aimed to encourage public acceptance of abstract art.

In America, Joseph Brown, who was a boxer, sculptor and teacher of architecture, experimented with kinetic works like Jiggle Rail and Swing Ring, while Paul Friedberg and Richard Dattner made the playground itself into an abstract sculptural composition. Their landforms invited children to hide, clamber and interact, but designed out parental hovering. In Italy and France, the radical spirit of ’68 informed the experimental practices of Riccardo Dalisi, Palle Nielsen and Group Ludic, whose spaces were tools of political engagement and subversion. And the architect Aldo van Eyck earned himself a special place in playground design heaven by inserting more than 700 playgrounds into the fabric of the city of Amsterdam between 1947 and 1978, combining playground design with a form of place-making.

And so to the present day, where we face growing evidence that children are spending less and less time playing outdoors. The phenomenon is variously ascribed to parental fears, stranger danger, perilous roads, over-structured leisure time and electronic games; the costs are commonly named as childhood obesity, poor mental health, disconnection from nature and the breakdown of community.

While the true nature and effects of this crisis – if indeed such a crisis exists – are up for debate, negativity surrounding the question of children’s play is leading to a reconsideration of what constitutes a playground.

‘(a)…proliferation of adult-controlled monetised play experiences’.

One expression of this is the proliferation of adult-controlled monetised play experiences. At Westfield, London, Kidzania brings children indoors to try out an array of professions, at a cost of £29.50 per child. The experience is claimed to ‘teach kids essential life skills including financial literacy, team work and independence.’ With 28 UK sites, Go Ape, (£18 per child), enables harnessed visitors to navigate a fixed circuit of high ropes, zip-wires and walkways, suspended from trees. These are terrifically fun days out, but what they offer is not true play, defined in the British playwork tradition as ‘freely chosen, self-directed and intrinsically motivated’. At Go Ape, the activity is neither freely chosen nor self-directed. You cannot choose the sequence in which you use the equipment, nor are you free to go back and do something again (and again). At Kidzania, which conceives childhood merely as preparation for adulthood and rewards the acquisition of specific skills, the activity is not intrinsically motivated.

How do you provide the maximum of space for imaginative play in a constricted space? Architect Asif Khan has tackled this problem at Chisenhale Primary School in east London (his children’s school) by designing an elevated structure which effectively creates more space. Access via a rope or a rope trellis, the space not only offers access to exciting slides, but areas designed for quiet and contem-plation. The structure is clad in heat-treated tulipwood, an abundant American hardwood that combines the sensuality of timber with a smooth surface devoid of splinters and great durability.

Of greater interest to the landscape architect is the fact that practitioners from the fields of playwork and design are questioning the logical basis of the playground itself. Adrian Voce is author of the excellent Policy for Play, which describes the twenty-year campaign to enshrine the right of the child to play in government and planning policy. He told me: ‘Adventure playgrounds responded to the loss of spaces where children could play. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need playgrounds because spaces where children grow up and go about their day would be spaces which they – and their parents – could perceive as safe. Playgrounds condescend to children’s need to play. They make it separate: but is this to keep children safe – or is it to keep society orderly and safe from children? Sadly, however, we don’t live in a perfect world so if it wasn’t for playgrounds, where else would children play?’

‘radical thinking about children in the built environment is coming close to eliminating the playground all together’

Some of the most radical thinking about children in the built environment is coming close to eliminating the playground all together. A cross-disciplinary team, led by Dinah Bornat of ZCD Architects, is using people-counting methodologies developed by Jan Gehl to gather evidence of the extent to which housing design fosters or discourages free outdoor play.

Bornat describes this as a new way of looking at external spaces: ‘In housing schemes that work well, play happens spontaneously. What’s needed is for children to have access to car-free, communal space from their doorsteps. We’re looking at ways in which housing design can enable this to happen.’

The origins of these ways of thinking can be found in the work of the anarchist, urbanist and educator, Colin Ward. In 1979, he looked outside the playground and said: ‘I don’t want a Childhood City. I want a city where children live in the same world as I do… If the claim of children to share the city is admitted, the whole environment has to be designed and shaped with their needs in mind… Every step the city takes to reduce the dominance of motor traffic makes the city more accessible to the child. It also makes life more tolerable for every other citizen.’

We should question our practice. We should make cities playable. But let’s not give up entirely on that playful, sculptural, experimental landscape that is experienced with both body and imagination known as the playground. The design of playgrounds still has plenty to say about the design and experience of all landscape.

Maisie Rowe

“Let’s end the institutionalisation of childhood”

9 Feb

In this interview from the ‘Childcare Conversations’ series on First Discoverers, author of Policy for Play, Adrian Voce talks about why he found playwork so rewarding and why campaigning for children’s right to play is so important to him.

Above all, writer Adrian Voce is a passionate advocate for children’s play, which his latest book ‘Policy for Play’ uncompromisingly describes as a child’s ‘forgotten right’. In conversation with First Discoverers, Adrian reveals some thought-provoking observations about childcare issues, explains why working with children is a privilege, and calls for an end to the ‘institutionalisation of childhood’.

“… more a playworker than a childcare worker”

Careerwise, Adrian recalls how, even before he became a parent, he felt very fortunate to be working on adventure playgrounds: “… my working life was a kind of reverse of the norm. Most other people went home to their families at the end of the day. I used to get the feeling I was coming home each day that I went into work …”

Role definition is significant for Adrian who definitely regards himself ‘more as a playworker than a childcare worker’, and it’s uplifting to hear his explanation of why the distinction is important: “I think children playing … are as vibrant and alive as humanity gets and it’s a huge privilege to be in that world again, with the reflective capacity of an adult.” Continuing, he confesses himself: “… driven by the need to help create [play] opportunities for children who may not otherwise have so many of them.”

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Dignity, respect and empathy…

Discussing inspirational moments he has experienced, Adrian recounts a moving story which will resonate with all childcare professionals:

“I worked as a special needs assistant, supporting a boy with mobility difficulties to take part in the mainstream education system. He was a normal little boy with a love of play and sport, and a real competitive nature. But his legs didn’t work very well and he spent a lot of time on his hands and knees. He was a great crawler! My job was to intervene as little as necessary to enable him to be part of the class, but mainly to just let him get on with it.

One sports day in Year 2, he lined up with other kids for a beanbag race between two teams. When it was his turn to race, the boy from the other team who lined up against him, when he saw who he was up against, without any cue or instruction from the adults or other kids, just instinctively dropped to his hands and knees so that they could have a fair race. I thought that was quite special.”

“It’s time we asked … whether schools and childcare are children-ready”

As a respected consultant on public provision for children’s play and the founding director of Play England, Adrian is clearly a dedicated campaigner – so look away now if you are easily unnerved by forthright opinion expressed by a committed children’s activist –

On playwork:

“I’d like to see the tenets, knowledge and skills of playwork recognised as core to the skill-set required for all childcare workers, in both early years and after school settings; and a reversal of the insidious institutionalisation of childhood that I fear is a result of our obsession with a very narrow measure of education.”

On schools and childcare:

“Rather than focusing on children being school-ready, it’s time we took a few big steps back and asked whether schools and childcare are really children-ready.”

On parenting attitudes:

“The message [parents] get is that they are over-protective, paranoid even, for being wary to let their children out alone … what is ‘risky play’ for example? It does not sound like something I would like my children to be doing! I think it’s an ill-advised label for a sensible, professional approach to managing risks …”

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Paradise lost…

Working with others on a national campaign to persuade government to make children’s play a policy priority enabled Adrian to voice his playwork philosophy:

I think children should be in supportive environments where they feel safe and secure enough to be themselves … to explore, invent, manipulate and discover. [They should have] access to the elements, a wide range of loose parts and materials … and opportunities to climb, hide, build, jump, balance, swing and all the other things a playful child wants to do … their playful nature will do the rest.”

Nevertheless, as he recounts, political intervention eventually succeeded in transforming an enlightened, groundbreaking approach into a roller-coaster ride:

“This led to the national Play Strategy for England of 2008, an ambitious 10-12 year plan with many different elements, that was designed to make England the best country in the world for children’s play. Seeing this scrapped after only two years, by people who did not even understand what it was, was pretty tough …”

“… there is a wider responsibility to make the public realm safer … for children.”

Moving on to discuss the supposed perils of play, Adrian’s playworker perspective on adventure play evokes a nuanced response. When asked if children can ever be ‘too safe’, he observes:

This is a big question and it depends what we mean by safe. Emotionally, no: the more loved and accepted a child feels, the more resilient, creative and adaptable they will be. But physically, denying children the incremental freedoms they need to explore the world on its own terms is not really keeping them safe, but rather protecting ourselves from the objects of our own anxiety … I wonder sometimes whether we put too much focus as a sector on the whole issue of risk and safety … Another problem I have with some of the current discourse about risk is that it tends to overshadow the fact that some of the risks parents are concerned about are all too real … [with] traffic, for example, they may have a real concern about exposing children to roads that are many times busier and more dangerous than they used to be. If we want parents to be more willing to allow their children the freedom to play outside, then there is a wider responsibility to make the public realm safer – and seen to be safer – for children.”

And finally, Adrian’s advice to anyone considering a career in childcare is predictably upbeat and enthusiastic:

Go for it! Working with children is the most enjoyable way to make a living that I’ve ever had the privilege to follow. Be real, don’t patronise them … they will respond to that and reward you with absolute trust … I think children need that feeling of a safe place, where they can be themselves and know that they are OK, no matter what. I think a good playworker (childcare worker, teacher) gives them that.”

David Williams

This interview first appeared on First Discoverers

Advocating for play at the crossroads (part 2)

6 May

In this second of a two-part blog about the prospects for play policy under the next government, Adrian Voce argues that playwork should be at the heart of the debate, and that the best hope for progress is a Labour victory tomorrow.

Will adventure playgrounds like this survive another five years of austerity?

Will adventure playgrounds like this survive another five years of austerity? Photo: Mick Conway.

With none of the parties featuring children’s play in their manifestos for tomorrow’s General Election – or, indeed, elsewhere in their campaigns in any positive sense – advocates for play policy face a huge challenge, whoever wins (or loses least badly) tomorrow’s vote.

The Children’s Play Policy Forum (CPPF), which commissioned a research review from Tim Gill after meeting with the Cabinet Office last year, appears to believe it has a dialogue with the incumbent government, upon which to build. Its proposals have the ring of a public response to a private discussion: some of them couched in terms that seem part of somebody else’s agenda. ‘Encouraging appropriate play in public space, while reducing neighbourhood conflict and the resulting pressure on police time’ or ‘support for staffed play provision to test social prescription health and well-being initiatives’ are certainly not ideas that seem to owe much to the Playwork Principles or Best Play (NPFA et al, 2000).

Using the language of existing priorities to persuade a government to adopt your own is a sometimes necessary ploy in the policy game, but one has to wonder, in the current climate, whether the possible rewards are worth the compromise. Any version of a new Conservative-led government – to meet its deficit reduction targets, not to mention its ideological mission – will need to preside over such a radical diminution of the public realm, such a break up of what is left of the universal networks and services to meet the common good, that the concept of public play provision, engendered and supported by government (national or local) with any kind of consistency or reach to the children who need it most, will recede into the past.

‘children’s play is unlikely to get any meaningful help from five more years of a Tory government, whoever might join them in forming it’

With no obvious contribution to make (Tim’s best efforts notwithstanding) to an economic model that knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing that cannot show a monetary return, children’s play is unlikely to get any meaningful help from five more years of a Tory government, whoever might join them in forming it. Whatever crumbs the Cabinet Office may again offer in its brazen attempts to bribe the voluntary sector into colluding in the pretence that the Big Society is anything other than a pretext for savage cuts to public services and welfare, let us not be fooled that any of its programmes will amount to an impactful or strategic national policy for play.

If, however, Labour’s share of the vote holds up – and it holds its nerve in the whirlwind of speculation, negotiation and media scaremongering that is likely to erupt on 8 May – sufficiently to form a government that lasts longer than a few months, we will again have an administration that is, at least in principle, interested in how to support children’s play: and one with a track record on play policy (early demise of the Play Strategy notwithstanding), that has been admired around the world. In that case, we will need to remind the two Eds and their colleagues about their rudely interrupted mission to engender and embed a universal network of playwork services and playable neighbourhoods as a vital component of the ‘public commons’ (Lammy, 2007).

We will need to put play back on the agenda of a party that, when it was last in power, came to realise that a society truly taking responsibility for the maxim that ‘every child matters’ and wanting to dedicate itself to improving ‘universal outcomes’ for children, needed to see them as important stakeholders not just in their formal education but in the whole public realm. We will also need to be clear that the key challenges – how to engender community environments that children want to play in, and parents feel confident to let them – were never going to be effectively addressed by a capital build programme for new play areas whose scale was out of proportion to other measures in the strategy.

‘we should not acquiesce in the insidious assumption that, in hard times, society cannot afford to indulge its children in the luxury of free play’

This is important, not because play provision is not a good investment in the fabric of the built and planned environment – we should not acquiesce in the insidious assumption that, in hard times, society cannot afford to indulge its children in the luxury of free play – but because the more important parts of the policy in 2008-10 were not about new kit, but about embedding play as a priority within local planning and commissioning processes.

Revenue, not capital, will be vital to keeping the country’s remaining adventure playgrounds open and to extending the community play development seen in places as different as Bristol and Tower Hamlets, where community activism and outreach playwork has taken on the challenge of animating public space to bring the children of diverse communities out to play in the streets and estates where they live.

A less hands-off planning system is needed to ensure more liveable, play-friendly designs of public space within the plans for new, affordable housing that is a key Labour pledge. We will need to remind new ministers that it was a Labour policy in London that showed how this can be done.

These are effective, ‘up-stream’ solutions to a range of social and public health priorities, as well as essential to the progression of a key policy outcome in its own right: that public space and public services support children to enjoy their childhoods. It is these objectives – not requiring major capital investment, but an intelligent, crosscutting and strategic plan – that we should be advocating for after the dust of the election has settled.

We should also be making the case for a well resourced, specialist support and development body to drive the necessary changes at a national level, and to provide support to the besieged community networks of play associations and small local charities that are, in many areas, the only play champions left.

It will be a long haul. Whoever leads the new government, we are in a very different world from the one of July 2007. It was then that Ed Balls, in the newly created post of Children’s Secretary, proclaimed, “I want to live in the kind of society that puts asbos behind us”, where children are free to play ‘conkers and snowballs and climb trees’, as part of a healthy childhood. By the time his Children’s Plan was launched in December the same year – a plan to transform the public realm so that space for children to play was at the heart of a vision ‘to make England the best place in the world to grow up’ (DCSF, 2007) – the financial crisis was well under way. The Play Strategy he then announced would be as short-lived as the rainbow logo that symbolised this new, broader vision for child policy.

Lady Allen of Hurtwood (1968a) once exhorted that ‘each local authority should make a survey of the play areas in the parks, estates, schools and playing fields within its boundaries’ and ‘direct the various departments of housing, education, parks and health to co-operate’ with teams comprising ‘town-planner, architect, engineer and landscape architect’. A celebrated landscape architect herself, Lady Allen was also one of the original playworkers, long before the term was adopted. She did more than anyone in the UK to define, create and promote adventure playgrounds as one response to children’s need for space to play in a world that was increasingly making it scarce for many of them. What is sometimes forgotten is that her wider vision was to ‘create a total environment that gives pleasure to those who live there’ (Hurtwood, 1968b). She believed planners must prioritise play space in new developments, ring-fencing budgets for it ‘so that children and their parents can feel they belong to a community that is intimate, where they can meet and chat with their neighbours’.

‘The suggestion that playwork has a mandate only to engage in policy affecting staffed services, while others “speak for play” in the broader sense, is a dangerous one’

Playwork, which can trace its origins directly back to the work of Lady Allen, has had a hard time of it under austerity, but it will be important in the campaigns to come that it is not marginalised. The suggestion that playwork has a mandate only to engage in policy affecting staffed services and the skills of their workforce, while others ‘speak for play’ in the broader sense, is a dangerous one that risks not only further decline in the profession itself, but the annexation of play policy by those outside this tradition. It was striking that none of the CPPF’s ‘4 Asks’ mentioned playwork.

It is part of the playwork principles that ‘playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas’ and that this role ‘should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education’. The London Adventure Playground Association, (chaired in the 60s by Lady Allen herself); LAPA’s successor, PLAYLINK; Fair Play for Children; London Play; Play Wales; the Children’s Play Council; and many local play associations, have each embodied this principle by drawing on their playwork experience, with its unique insights into how to best support children’s play, to advocate for play beyond the playground. Support for playwork development, as an important part of the children’s workforce, must be part of any new play policy; but equally important will be that other areas of the policy are informed by the playwork approach. Each of these objectives require that playwork, more than ever, needs its own national body.

It was 35-40 years before Lady Allen’s clear-sighted vision for crosscutting planning, not just for play space but playable public space, was adopted, first by the Mayor of London (2005) and then the national government (DCSF, 2009). It was more than five years after CPC called for a national play strategy (Cole-Hamilton and Gill, 2002), that Ed Balls made his announcement in the House of Commons. We are used to the long haul.

‘both the children’s rights’ and the improved outcomes’ arguments for serious play policy, are actually stronger than they were seven years ago’.

Yet, since the Play Strategy was abandoned, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2013) has issued a comprehensive framework for government action on play, General Comment 17, and, as Tim Gill’s Play Return suggests, even if play provision is primarily viewed in policy terms as instrumental to other aims, it is a good investment. Set against the hugely less conducive economic climate, both the children’s rights’ and the improved outcomes’ arguments for serious play policy, are actually stronger than they were seven years ago.

If this seems like pie-in-the-sky, it is worth noting that some of the most ambitious calls for play policy from the next government have come not from any of the different play sector groupings, but from Parliamentarians. The All Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Health Childhood, chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, has called for a new national play strategy and for the statutory play sufficiency duty now in place in Wales to be extended to England. The seriousness of the APPG and its aims are evident in its recent establishment of a working group on play to further research and develop these proposals. A report, endorsed, as the name suggests, by MPs of all parties (a list now potentially considerably longer after our letter), is expected in the summer.

This activity should tell us that, while many precious spaces and services have gone, the issue of provision for children’s play has not itself disappeared from political debates about what kind of society we want, and what role government should play in it. Losing the resources that enabled us to make the argument in quite the way that we did in 2000-2007 – consulting widely, building that valuable consensus and using the media to amplify our message – may have made it harder to do so again, but perhaps it is within Parliament itself that we must now build the alliance to hold the new government to account for a proper policy and strategy for play.  If Labour manage to pull it off tomorrow, do not be surprised if this time it takes considerably fewer than 40 years, or even five, to get a response. If they do not, I fear the policy game, for now, will be up.

Adrian Voce

Correction, 7 May 2015

The originally published blog incorrectly stated that seven years elapsed between the Children’s Play Council’s call for a national play strategy and the Labour government’s announcement that a Play Strategy would be part of its new Children’s Plan. The period in question was, of course, five years (2002-7). It just seemed longer!

References

Cole-Hamilton, I. and Gill, T. (2002), Making the Case for Play, London: Children’s Play Council.

DCSF (2007), The Children’s Plan – Building brighter futures, London: The Stationery Office.

DCSF (2010), Embedding the Play Strategy, London: The Stationery Office.

Hurtwood, Lady Allen of, (1968), Planning for Play, London: Thames and Hudson.

Lammy, D., Minister for Culture (2007) ‘Making space for children – the big challenge for our public realm’, Thinkpiece, London: Compass

Mayor of London (2005), Guide to Preparing Play Strategies; planning inclusive play space and opportunities for all London’s children and young people. London: Greater London Authority.

National Playing Fields Association, Children’s Play Council and PLAYLINK (2000), Best Play: What Play Provision Should Do For Children, London: NPFA.

Dear politicians, playing children bring communities together – but they need you to protect their space

9 Apr

Over 100 playworkers and play advocates have united to refute the UKIP claim that immigration stops children playing out together, and to highlight the real reasons for the decline in outdoor play.

This is a copy our letter, which is being sent to 3000 election candidates today, calling for government support for community play.

Play advocates are encouraged to adapt it with examples and quotes from families to use in local campaigns*

*Please remove signatories if the letter is altered in any way.
Children, allegedly not playing together because of their different backgrounds,                                                     send a message to UKIP

Children, allegedly not playing together because of their different backgrounds, send a message to UKIP

Dear Candidate,

Following the recent assertion, from Nigel Farage of UKIP, that immigration divides communities to the extent that children can no longer play outside together, we would like to assure you that in our experience of supporting community play over many years, this is not true.

We would, however, like to highlight evidence of the real barriers to outdoor play.

Play is in some ways a delicate thing, largely unnoticed by the adult world. Yet when children are free to play, they thrive. There is plenty of evidence that playing is vital to their development, essential to good mental health and physical activity. It is how children discover their identity and their passions. Most importantly, playing is how they most enjoy being alive.

Children play regardless of their differences, and the friendships they form through play make up the social fabric that strengthens families – and whole communities. Over a number of years there has been a great deal of research into the barriers that children face to their natural desire to play with their friends in the public spaces near their homes.

The number one offender is invariably traffic, followed by parental anxiety about ‘stranger danger’.

Research (by Ipsos MORI, NOP and a range of academic institutions) over a number of years has shown that other reasons for children not playing out as much as they and their parents would like, are anxieties about bullying, too much rubbish, poorly maintained or boring playgrounds and a lack of trusted adult oversight. In recent years, fear of accusations of bad parenting has also been cited as a reason for keeping children inside. Pressure on both children’s and adults’ time – from school and work respectively – is another.

These barriers have become so great that some studies estimate that today’s children have less than 10 per cent of the space for free play, compared to only 30-40 years ago. Strong links have been made between this decline and a range of poor health trends.

None of the evidence that we have looked at suggests that immigration is a significant factor.

On the contrary, children playing outside bring people together and engender strong, cohesive communities. We see children from diverse backgrounds playing together in their local neighbourhoods every day, but to enable and support more children to play outside – the way they have for countless generations all over the world – we need to control traffic, not immigration. Children and their parents need to have confidence in the public spaces where they would play.

They need more road closures, lower speed limits, safe routes to school and play areas, more and better community policing; and funding for playwork and community play projects. In the longer-term, planning decisions and spatial development strategies must consider what children need from the built environment and the wider public realm.

We would like to invite you to meet some of us and to visit the streets, estates and villages where you can see for yourself the power of community play. We would also be more than happy to discuss with you how the new government can support children’s play after the election.

Please pledge today to work with us to improve the spaces where families live; to support community play for the UK’s children – in all their glorious diversity.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Isabelle Allen, Playworker, Sycamore Adventure
Marc Armitage, Independent Playwork Consultant
Roger Barham
Fran Barton

Arthur Battram, PleXity
Simon Bazley
Tracey Beasley, Playwork and Early Years Trainer, CWT – Chamber Training
Joan Beattie, EQ Playwork Training and Consultancy
Lucy Benson, Islington Play Association
Steve Boeje, Play Association Hammersmith and Fulham
Jackie Boldon and the Shiremoor Adventure Playground team
Dani Bowman, Community Development Officer, High Wycombe
Karen Benjamin, Training and Development Officer, Playwork Partnerships
Janine Sally Brady
Amanda Brook
Professor Fraser Brown
Donne Buck, New Ark Adventure Playground
Petra Burgess, senior playworker, Bapp
Phill Burton, Dynamix
Imogen Butler-Cole
Rebecca Coley, Birmingham PlayCare Service
Samuel Butler, St. John Ambulance
Theresa Casey, International Play Association (IPA)
Laura Jane Clifton
Lottie Child, Lecturer, the University of the Arts and Forest School Leader
Sue Coates
Issy Cole-Hamilton
Mick Conway, Playday Founder and member of The Wild Network Council
Rachel Cross, Playworker, Bristol
Pete Darlo, Playful human
Elaine Davies, Chief Executive, About Play
Tiu De Haan
Michele Deans
Siobhan Dillon, College Park Residents Association, NW10
Rich Driffield
Anne Dunn
Vicky Edwards, Crawley Play Service
Cinzia Ferella, International Sales Manager, Sutcliffe Play
John Fitzpatrick
Michael Follett
Marvlon Gardener, Nana Marz Childcare
Tim Gill, Independent Researcher
Alison Goguelin
Sarah Goldsmith
Anita Grant, Islington Play Association
Paul Greatorex, Play consultant, Leisure and the Environment
Claire Griffiths, Play Department Manager of AVOW, Play on Plas Madoc
Andy Grout, Playworker
Sylwyn Guilbaud, Playworker
John Hale, Somerstown Adventure Playground, Portsmouth
Bridget Handscomb, Hackney Play Association
Paula Harris
Chris Harwood, Sandwell Adventure Play Association
Donna Hawkins, Playworker, Brighton
Jane Hembrow
Thomas Henchman
Claire Higham
Andy Hinchcliffe, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Paul Hocker, Development Director, London Play
Claire House, Smash Club Manager
Caitlin Howells, Community Artist and Playworker, Norfolk
Abi Ps Hunter
Nick Jackson
Kevin Johnson
Michelle Jones
Haki Kapasi, Inspire
Tony Kendle, The Eden Project
Yanina Koszalinski, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Jacky Kilvington
Dr. Pete King
Glynnis Knight-Lee
Leonie Labistour, University of Gloucestershire
Suzanna Law, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Amanda Lawler, Playworker, Funzone Ltd.
Morgan Leichter-Saxby, Pop-Up Adventure Play
Pip Levett, Director of Play, Play Gloucestershire
Pamela Lewis
Christophe Lutard
Alex Madewell
Marianne Mannello, Playworker
Melian Mansfield, Chair, London Play
Chris Martin, Playwork Convenor, Unite the union
Nathan MacGillivray, Play Development Worker
Lisa Matthew, Play Mosaic Ltd.
Dr. Mel McCree
Keeks Mcgarry, Shiremoor Adventure Playground
Ken McKeating, Playwork Manager
Patrick Meleady, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Meynell, iP-D!P
Sue Morris, Community Stuff
Chris Morton
Rachel Murray, Playwork Consultant and Forest School Practitioner
Jade Newton-Gardener, IMAP
Eddie Nuttall, Felix Road Adventure Playground
Emma Payne, Birmingham PlayCare Network
Tanya Petherick, Director, Class Of Their Own
Carolyn Port, Chair of Governors, Winterslow Primary School and Founder of Winterslow Youth Zone
Dave Poulton, Playworker
David Spencer Ramsey
Lynda Ray, About Play, Sheffield
Charlie Reaves
Dan Reesjones
Lee-Anne Robinson-Godby
Rachel Rose Reid
Simon Rix, Meriden Adventure Playground Association
Shelly Rossiter, Manager, YMCA, Dorset
Michael Rowan, Parks Consultant, Aucuparia Consultancy
Ruth Russell
Dr. Wendy Russell, University of Gloucestershire
Sue Saunders
Joel Seath, Playworker
Sasha Sencier Persaud-Jagdhar
Lily Slingo, School Play Coordinator, Bristol
Tania Slingo, Parent
Colin Simmons, Trustee, London Play
Panash Shah, Cambridge Kids Club
Hilary Smith, University of Gloucestershire
Kate Smith, Tiverton Adventure Playground
Chris Snell
Ben Tawil
Rachel Temple, Ceda
Sheila Tequila
Caroline Thom
Janine Timoko
Gareth Venn
Michelle Virdi
Adrian Voce OBE
Jessie Voce
Barry Walden, Vice Chair, London Play
Paul Waller, Brighton and Hove Play Service
Laura Walsh, Central YMCA Club
Philip Waters, The Eden Project
Laura Watkins, Woodland Toddlers, Busy Rascals and Pitsmoor Adventure Playground
Margaret Westwood, International Play Association (IPA), Scotland
Raymond Arnold Willis, Play Manager
Niki Willows, Playworker and Trainer, Rounded & Grounded
Ali Wood, Independent Playwork Trainer and Researcher
Will Wpa, Senior Playworker @wpaplay Play Association
Charlie Rebekah Caplan Wilson
Charlie Wilson, Supervisor, Class of Their Own, Brighton
Penny Wilson, Playworker
Tracey Woodward
Mike Wragg, Chair, Eccleshill Adventure Playground
Sandra Wright, Leader, Wild Foxes Forest School
Keyo Yendii

Playwork field calls on parties to adopt policy measures for play

25 Mar

Proposals from the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne show that the playwork sector has lost none of its ambition, or its fight

A special session at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne earlier this month has produced a clear and ambitious play policy agenda ahead of the General Election. Here is the text of a joint statement from the conference convenors and the steering group for a new vehicle for playwork:

“A General Comment from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2013[1] said that governments have an obligation under international law to ‘recognise, protect and fulfil’ children’s right to play, through appropriate legislation, planning and budgeting.

A recent research review of the impact of children’s play initiatives found that there is good evidence that they ‘lead to improved health outcomes for children, and are also linked to a range of other developmental benefits’ and that these can be shown to be cost-effective.[2]

Yet, in spite of it being a clear responsibility of government and there being good evidence of its immediate and long-term benefits, public play provision has been one of the main casualties of austerity.[3] A ten-year play strategy for England was abandoned after only two years, and the voices of children and those who support their play have been virtually unheard in the debate about the economy and public services.

UK playworkers now call on political parties to recognise the vital importance of time and space to play in children’s lives and of the vital role of playwork in opening up opportunities otherwise denied to many of them.

We urge all parties, relevant government ministers and other agencies to adopt children’s right to play as a central plank of policy for children and to take urgent steps to protect the country’s unique network of staffed play provision, such as adventure playgrounds, by developing a new national play strategy to include: –

  • A statutory play sufficiency duty for all local councils, as is now the case in Wales.
  • Recognising playwork training and qualifications as essential to extended services, after-school, and holiday play provision.
  • Reforming the regulation of extended services and out-of school provision to make playwork practice an essential part of the inspection criteria.
  • Reinstating central funding for infrastructure, professional workforce development and a new national body for playwork.
  • Directing Public Health England to work with local authorities to develop area-wide strategies for free play.
  • Making play policy a core component of a new Cabinet post for children.
  • Addressing the need for equitable terms and conditions for playworkers.
  • Developing a national programme of ‘playable neighbourhoods’, expanding the numbers of adventure playgrounds, play streets, home zones and play ranger schemes and by supporting playwork and community play development projects.
  • Reforming anti-social behaviour law affecting children’s play so that participation and mediation replace criminalisation.

The playwork sector will continue to develop these proposals in consultation with the field, and is committed to working with government and other agencies to realise such measures in the interests of all the UK’s children, their families and communities”.

Drafted from workshop discussions, feedback sessions and prioritising exercises at the National Playwork Conference, Eastbourne, March 2015, facilitated by Ali Wood and Pete Duncan.

The Eastbourne statement can be downloaded as a pdf here: Playwork policy proposals

Notes

[1] UNCRC (2013) General Comment (GC17) on Article 31 of the CRC.

[2] Gill, T. (2014) The Play Return: a review of the wider impact of play initiatives, London: Children’s Play Policy Forum.

[3] An investigation by Children and Young People Now, reported in January 2014 found that local authority spending on play services over the past three years had been reduced by an average of 39 per cent.

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