Play needs increased funding

March 5th, 2018 by

With the latest report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing girls spending more time involved in play activities than boys, Play England is highlighting how the chronic funding crisis on the play sector means girls in particular are missing out on play opportunities. The ONS report ‘Children’s engagement with the outdoors and sports activities, UK: 2014 to 2015’ shows that whilst boys spent longer on sports activities, girls spent more of their time in play activities – 127 minutes per day compared to boys at 96 minutes.
Yet government’s investment in play has been cut from £235 million prior to 2010 to zero in 2018. Between 2012 and 2017, Sport England received £1 billion from the government and National Lottery funding. Play England is calling for these levels of national funding to also be made available for play.

Here is a model letter to MPs. Please complete and send this to your local MP!

Your name & address (you must include this in order to receive a response from your local MP)

Your MP (find out who they are, and contact parliamentary e-mail here🙂

Dear XXX

I am writing to ask you to support an increase in national funding for play provision.

The benefits of play reach into every aspect of children’s lives. It is vital for their enjoyment of childhood as well as for social, emotional, intellectual and physical development. Independent research, as well as the Chief Medical Officer’s own recommendations, emphasizes the effectiveness of play in helping children’s health and wellbeing. The Mental Health Foundation recommends that regular play helps keep children mentally well.

Access to high quality, staffed play opportunities also benefits parents and families, providing important social support, crucial lifelines in deprived neighbourhoods and for parents in need.

 However, investment in play has collapsed: prior to 2010, government investment in play was  £235 million. Now, in 2018, it is zero. 

This is damaging the quality and availability of public play provision in local parks and open spaces. National government cuts to local authorities is also forcing staffed play providers, such as adventure playgrounds and after-school clubs, to cut services or close.

These cuts are limiting children’s access to free, local play spaces and taking a toll on children’s health and wellbeing. According to the government’s childhood obesity strategy, nearly a third of children aged two to 15 in England are overweight or obese. The problem is worse amongst children from the most deprived areas, with five-year olds twice as likely to be obese compared to their most well off counterparts. A Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition survey has found that young people’s mental health problems have become more severe over the last two years.

Investing in play benefits everyone and is vital for this country’s future. Between 2012 and 2017, the government and National Lottery invested £1 billion in Sport England. I believe that the same levels of funding need to be made available for play.

Please support Play England’s ‘Save our Play’ campaign which calls on the government to pledge matched funding between sport and play – to benefit all of our children and young people.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Yours sincerely,


Your name


You can also download the model letter here.

Shiremoor leads the way on quality in play

February 2nd, 2018 by

Shiremoor Adventure Playground is the latest play organisation to be accredited with Quality in Play (QiP), Play England’s quality assurance system for playwork practitioners.

Shiremoor, in Newcastle upon Tyne, is a former mining area with high levels of deprivation. The adventure playground opened in 2010 as part of the Play Pathfinder Programme on a previously unused seven hectare site of land. It is managed by North Tyneside Council who provide core funding for staff and running costs. The Shiremoor Adventure Playground Trust raise additional charitable and other funding for salaries and activities.

The Adventure Playground has successfully managed the transition from catering for a very local community, to being a destination playground in the spring and summer months, when between 300 to 500 people visit daily.   In autumn and winter it reverts back to a community playground for core local users. Because the playground is less busy, this is when the more adventurous play, like Parkour, takes place.

Play England talked to Shiremoor’s Manager and Senior Playworker, Keeks McGarry about the QiP experience.

Why was accreditation important to you?

“It’s important for a number of reasons. We strongly believe in the professional profile of playwork and welcome being scrutinised by a set of standards that have been endorsed by the sector. Having achieved QIP status it’s given the team credibility and confidence in what we do and how we do it. QIP is also important from the perspective of an Adventure Playground within a local authority model as our approach is not always understood by Health and Safety Inspectors, other professionals and organisations who may not be familiar with a playwork approach.”

Quality in Play is a management tool to support continuous self-assessment and improvement. The process brings together the staff and management team to organise the policies and procedures – ‘how we do things here’ – into a portfolio of evidence.


How did your team manage the process of working through the Play summary areas?

“For most of the areas we started with a bunch of our Annual Reports and policy documents as paper-based evidence of how we were meeting the criteria. So, for example, Area 1 looks at the importance of freely chosen play. Statements in our Annual Reports and in our Play Policy produced robust evidence of how we were meeting this area. Once we had paper-based evidence we discussed other formats such as videos or children’s statements that would provide an holistic picture of that summary area. We knew from the past accreditation process that our weakest area was around publicity and information dissemination so we made a concerted effort to address this when putting together all of our evidence this time round. The QIP process has also helped us to focus on what we are providing as professional playworkers and we’ve used it as evidence of quality in relation to several funding bids.”

At Shiremoor, children are actively involved in the running of the playground, making sure everyone signs in and showing new arrivals around the playground. Regulars also look out for younger children and new users on the structures. Shiremoor has developed a team of ‘Helping Hands’ and more recently ‘Junior Playworkers’ who encourage children to take responsibility for tasks and jobs – and they clearly take pride in and enjoy them. In return, they are allowed on the playground an hour early, which is seen as a great privilege.

“Children were involved in the Quality in Play process right from the beginning,” says Keeks. “Some of our older users had helped in pulling together a file of their own evidence for our first accreditation visit so they guided a younger group in collating a file this time around. This worked on two levels. On one level the children’s file began to fill up with all kinds of ‘evidence’, ranging from pieces of their own artwork, to photos of trips they had been on. We briefed a core group of children on talking about what was in their file so that they could present it on the day of assessment.

This got the children familiar with the process as well as focusing them on some of the summary areas where they could really have an input. By the time the day of inspection had arrived a lot of our children were really familiar with what was going to be assessed and were more than keen to help show the inspector around and talk about the evidence in their file.”

Another part of the Quality in Play process looks at how play providers can actively engage and work with the wider community – ‘the local community is the sea in which play provision swims or sinks.’ As children’s services are increasingly integrated, play providers need to make links with networks of professionals who work with children and young people in their area. This enables play and other services to signpost children and families to each other and build community awareness of what is available.

Working through the Quality in Play process, did it help you to demonstrate the positive impact of the playground on the wider community?

“QIP accreditation has given the Playground a sense of status that really helps when working with other organisations and professionals. To the uninitiated, Adventure Playgrounds are often misunderstood. It can be difficult to build relationships and partnerships in the wider community unless there is some understanding about our approach and our practice and how this can benefit the children we work with. QIP has helped us to develop good, mutually respected relationships in the local and wider community enabling us to work closer with local police, social workers, local schools, colleges and universities, youth offending teams, foster carers and local businesses. This has given us the opportunity to ‘educate’ some of these people and organisations in relation to the importance of play in the lives of children.”

These mutually respected relationships are evident in the Playground’s Annual Report, where PC Kev Rogerson is quoted: “The playground, the staff and the volunteers are part of the fabric of the lives of the young people of Shiremoor. They know the young people so well and are always looking to enhance their lives by providing experiences that help raise their confidence and self-esteem. I would say that the Adventure Playground is one of the main factors in helping us keep youth issues ‘in hand’. If we (as the police) are looking to think of ways to divert young people from disruptive behaviour, Keeks and his staff team are the ones we go to for help and advice.”

An independent assessment of QiP noted, “with regards to a playwork approach or playwork ethos, QiP was found time-and-again to have made a significant difference in practice to individuals, their teams, to children and, in one case, a whole authority. Those who had embraced the process described how ‘the light bulb was switched on’ for them, or how they had been on a ‘learning journey of team understanding”. 

Did Shiremoor have this lightbulb moment?

“Our lightbulb has been flickering on and off throughout the process as we have now undertaken the ‘journey’ twice,” says Keeks. “The first time around it was a case of affirmation for the way we worked, with the realisation that although we were confident that we were meeting most of the criteria and standards in the play summary areas, we did not have the evidence to prove this to others! When we were going for re-accreditation the system was familiar and gaps were a lot easier to identify so we could concentrate more on the quality of evidence that we were providing.”

Interested in getting accredited for Quality in Play? Find out more here:

Valuing adventure playgrounds

July 17th, 2017 by

Sereena Keymatlian (Somerford Grove APG), Bex Willans (Lady Allen APG), Cathy O’Leary (Somerford Grove APG), Dawn Jarrett & Guy Lawrence (Waterside APG)

Nic Mcewan is lead for the three year project, Play Works, designed to help adventure playgrounds improve how they monitor the impact they have on their communities.

Here she describes how the project works.

“Still something of a newbie on the play scene, it was only a couple of summers ago that I walked into an adventure playground for the first time; a surprise discovery cycling through north London on a hot summer’s day.

I used to be a secondary school English teacher, persuading children to be creative in a room with four white walls (we weren’t allowed displays). “Use the five senses!”, I’d hoot, “What can you see? What can you smell?” and so on. This dusty scenario floated into my mind as I observed the adventure playground in full swing, pun intended.

Here, the presence of the five senses was palpable – the whoops of children leaping from platforms way above my head; the blaze of colour coating higgledy-piggledy wooden structures; a sudden shock of cold water as I’m caught in (friendly) cross-fire; the earthy smell of woods, bark, earth…

London has the highest concentration of adventure playgrounds in the world but they are rapidly dwindling. It is difficult to track exactly how many have closed over the past five years, but in one borough, of the 16 adventure playgrounds advertised on the council’s website, only six are currently open.

The climate of austerity is competitive, unfair and tense. Yet people, especially playworkers, are resilient and innovative. When combined with funding, such qualities will see the survival of these special places. Play Works, London Play’s three-year project sponsored by City Bridge, is designed to help adventure playgrounds improve the ways in which they monitor and evaluate the incredible social impact they have on their communities. Bespoke training workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions equip participants with the confidence and competence to make arguments for funding backed by hard data. And, believe it or not, at times they’ve actually enjoyed doing it!

Each year we work with four adventure playgrounds including at least one with special provision for children with disabilities. Between September and December, a project lead for each playground is funded to attend five day-long workshops, introducing the process of initiating systems and means for measuring impact. Any time spent completing associated work outside these training sessions is also reimbursed.

A positive outcome for many of the playgrounds has been the sense of starting with what they believe to be their vision, a chance to articulate their purpose in their own words and not bend it to suit the requirements of funders. In this way, participants have been able to stay true to their values and collect data which feels meaningful. Findings then spark further questions that playworkers are genuinely interested in answering, and so the process begins to feel tantalisingly sustainable.

Every happy playground is happy in its own way. So, while we have certainly seen similarities between outcomes being researched – such as improved physical health in young people, more respite for parents, increased confidence and resilience among users – each adventure playground has also been collecting data specific to them. For example, one included staff as a key stakeholder, having just formed part of an employee-led mutual of six playgrounds. They interviewed colleagues to find out how empowered they felt in the new structure. Another focused on their reputation within the wider community, reaching out to schools and local businesses; and another wanted to know if they really were consulting with children and young people as rigorously as they imagined, carefully tracking opportunities for child-led decision-making arising in the space.

After the training phase, from January to June, the participants apply their learning on the ground, spending time designing creative, innovative tools or adapting traditional approaches to collect data that will enable them to make judgements about the extent to which they are meeting or exceeding their desired objectives (what they do) and outcomes (the changes that occur as a result).

Throughout the project they have access to one-to-one mentoring sessions with me, the project lead. These have lasted anywhere from a 20-minute phone-call to a full day, depending on what is needed. It’s worth mentioning that many playworkers have felt hesitant and nervous at the start of the project (probably plagued by memories of sitting in that white walled classroom!), and so the mentoring sessions have been integral to ensuring learning from the previous workshop is consolidated and can be reiterated in the context of their playground.

The final phase, from June to July, sees participants grappling with their findings, analysing them for themes, patterns, surprises, and writing up their process in a full report. One drawback of the project is its timeline, as really the best period to collect data in an adventure playground is during the summer. Still, playgrounds have created an interim report that can be updated with further data, and they’ve used it as a reflection on the process so far; what’s worked well and less so.

For many playgrounds, Play Works has enabled them to cook up a baseline set of data, understand how to read this, and then present it effectively and engagingly. The main report will become their template for annual evaluations, and headline achievements will be elicited to form a thinner, glossy version to be shared and digested more easily among stakeholders. We are particularly excited about printing large banners for playgrounds to display their achievements, like schools do with their Ofsted results.

As well as the 12 adventure playgrounds in London who will benefit most directly from the project over its three years, we are thrilled this year to be piloting our Play Works online toolkit,

a central resource for guides, worksheets, examples and tools for play providers (not just playgrounds) to effectively monitor and evaluate their impact. So far eight play services are engaging with the toolkit, representing different play providers from all over the UK (though we had a recent request from as far afield as Sydney!). We have parents running play streets; social enterprises focusing on play; pop up adventure playgrounds – a real mix of people keen to learn more about how they can evidence what they do, in order to do more of it and better.

In September, we will be travelling to Calgary to present the project at the International Play Association triennial conference, with the aim of making more connections with play providers around the world. Joining up and supporting each other has been a hugely important part of Play Works’ success. When you have a little extra time and money to come together, the climate begins to feel less tense, less tiring, and a little more surmountable.

While this all sounds good and well, it is important to emphasise that participating in this project has not been easy for the playgrounds. The sector is currently stretched to capacity, often beyond, and it has taken persistence, patience, and a lot of frowning to get to that final glossy report, and that’s really just the beginning. I’ve been humbled by the determination and energy of those who have taken part in Play Works so far, both in person and online, and looking forward to continuing this work over the next year.”

Nic works at London Play as project lead for Play Works, designing and delivering the programme of training and mentoring. She is completing a Masters in Landscape Architecture with the aim of designing playful spaces with communities.

If you would like to trial the Play Works online toolkit, or if you have any questions about the project, contact


Adventure into Sport helps children and families get active

June 23rd, 2017 by


Play England is delighted to announce our new project, #AdventureintoSport which launches on Monday 26 June.

At the moment, too many children are leading inactive lives with increasing numbers either overweight or obese.  Many are growing up in over-crowded housing without access to quality play and sports opportunities outside school.

Adventure into Sport offers free after-school and summer holiday play opportunities to help hard-to-reach children and their families develop a positive and sustained relationship with physical activity and sport.

Play England is working with partners Eccleshill Adventure Playground in Ravenscliffe, Bradford and Play Association Tower Hamlets with Mudchute Farm on the Isle of Dogs, as well as regional sports providers, London Sport and Yorkshire Sports.  The Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development & Learning (PEDAL), the University of Cambridge is evaluating the impact of the project, which is funded by Sport England and the National Lottery.

“We hope Adventure into Sport will highlight the importance of play, and foster greater collaboration between play and sport provision. The funding attached to the government’s sports strategy needs to be reaching local play organisations – who can actually deliver the outcomes we all want.”
Nicola Butler, Chair of Play England

“I am delighted to be working with Play England and Sport England to carry out this piece of research. It will be an important first step in evaluating how play impacts on the attitudes and behaviours of children and families regarding physical activity.”
Jenny Gibson,  PEDAL, Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning, University of Cambridge

“Play Association Tower Hamlets has run free estate-based play sessions for over 10 years. We’ve seen how people feel much more part of a community and motivated to be active outside. Mudchute Farm is a real treasure of countryside on our doorstep and we’re really excited to be running these play sessions with them.”
Eleanor Image, Play Association Tower Hamlets 

“The Big Swing Adventure Playground has been delivering open access play sessions to the local community since 2008. We have an annual attendance of over 10,000 children and young people from the immediate locality and wider Bradford District. We are thrilled to be part of a new opportunity, which recognises the importance of community-based, open-access play in encouraging children and families to be more active.”
Janet Jewitt, Manager of Eccleshill Adventure Playground


1. Play England’s Street Play project has identified increases in children’s physical activity when they play out. The data showed that outdoor, active play was more likely to replace sedentary and screen-based activities, than physical activities.  Increased community cohesion was also identified through an in depth study of parents’ views. The project found that hours between 3:30pm and 6pm on weekdays are the ‘critical window’ for children’s physical activity and it is during this time when differences in weekday physical activity between low and high active children and non-obese and obese children are greatest.  Currently only 13% of 10 and 11 year old children are outdoors and active during this time.

2. The government’s 2015 Sports strategy recommends “[e]ncouraging active play at younger ages is important and can help develop healthy habits, enjoyment of physical activity and physical literacy skills.”

3. The government’s childhood obesity strategy recommends that ‘Every primary school child should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.’

4. Both Bradford and Tower Hamlets have high levels of social deprivation.

In Ravenscliffe, 44% of children are growing up in poverty.  89.2% of children in Eccleshill are in the bottom 20% of the Child Wellbeing index.

In the Isle of Dogs, prevalence of childhood obesity in Year 6 children (children aged 10-11) is 27.1%, well above the national average of 19.1%. At 44%, Tower Hamlets also has the highest proportion of children growing up in poverty of any local authority area in the UK. (Child Poverty stats, November 2016). Isle of Dogs is a geographically isolated community within Tower Hamlets, often living in crowded accommodation in local housing estates.  The area is in the top 3% for deprivation (Indices of Multiple Deprivation). 

 5. Adventure into Play partners

Play England is the national charity for children’s play.  We provide guidance for thousands of play providers: adventure playgrounds, after-school clubs, parks departments, parents, volunteers and schools.  We coordinate the national Free Time Consortium, funded by Social Investment Business involving over 30 play organisations working with more than 20,000 parents and volunteers to create over 500,000 play opportunities, and empower volunteers to run their own play sessions.  Play England’s annual Playday campaign was evaluated by the Institute for Volunteering and NCVO which found Playday reached over 900,000 adults and children, giving 191 million opportunities to view the campaign through national and local media coverage.

‘The Big Swing’ – Eccleshill Adventure Playground

Eccleshill Adventure Playground is a registered charity based in the Ravenscliffe area of Bradford. It is an adventure playground for five to 16 year olds, open five days a week, free of charge. It works closely with disadvantaged children including children from BAME communities, disabled children and children from low income and single parent families.

The playground provides a place where children and young people can play together in a supervised environment.  The Big Swing has a trampoline, exciting climbing structures, slides, swings as well as offering children the chance to use tools to construct dens, go karts and other structures and learn how to make camp fires in our outdoor kitchen. Activities are carried out under the direction of the children’s needs and wishes. Staff at Eccleshill Adventure Playground work hard to provide exciting and engaging activities which benefit children’s health, well being, physical capabilities and literacy.  All their activities can be made fully inclusive and adapted to any skill level. Eccleshill has developed strong relationships with a number of local schools, helping children develop analytical, team-working, language and mathematical skills as well as helping those children who may require help with behaviour in class.

Play Association Tower Hamlets

Play Association Tower Hamlets (PATH) is a charity that provides play opportunities to children and young people across the borough. Their trained play rangers deliver outdoor play sessions, working closely with local communities to ensure children and young people can play on their housing estates, close to their homes, supported by the community. Over 16 years, the charity has built up close links with the local authority, housing and residents associations, working hard to ensure that play is firmly at the heart of community life in Tower Hamlets.  

PEDAL, Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development and Learning, University of Cambridge

PEDAL was launched in October 2015. Its mission is to conduct academic research into the role of play in young children’s education, development and learning to inform wider practice and policy.

6. Social media:

‘Adventure into Play’ Play England webpage.






Please RT our launch tweet:

Partner twitter handles:







Playwork qualifications – July UPDATE

May 30th, 2017 by

Following calls by Play England for playworkers to lobby qualification awarding bodies to extend registration of Playwork Diplomas CACHE and City & Guilds have reviewed their stance and extended the registration for some of the qualifications for another year.

Thank you to all those play workers and play organisations who took the time to write expressing their concern about the deletion of the playwork qualifications.

This is a small but significant victory!

However, it does not resolve the problem of disappearing qualifications in the long term.  Awarding bodies need a critical number of registrations for each qualification to ensure it is financially viable.  If those registration fees are not forthcoming, the qualifications will be deleted, whether there is verbal support or not.

So, if you are wondering whether to register yourself, or your staff, on a playwork qualification, now is the time to act, while we still have qualifications on which to register!

Below is a list of the qualifications that are available in England, by awarding body, and their last registration dates, as at 26 May 2017.


City and Guilds

Qualification Level and Title Last date for registration
Level 2 Award in Playwork 31 July 2018
Level 2 Certificate in Playwork 31 July 2018
Level 2 Diploma in Playwork 31 July 2018
Level 3 Award in Playwork No longer available
Level 3 Certificate in Playwork No longer available
Level 3 Diploma in Playwork 31 July 2018
Level 4 Award in Playwork 30 Nov 2017
Level 4 Certificate in Playwork No longer available
Level 5 Diploma in Playwork 31 July 2018


Qualification Level and Title Last date for registration
Level 2 Award in Playwork No longer available
Level 2 Certificate in Playwork No longer available
Level 2 Diploma in Playwork 31 Aug 2019
Level 3 Award in Playwork No longer available
Level 3 Certificate in Playwork 31 Aug 2019
Level 3 Diploma in Playwork
31 Aug 2019
Level 4 Award in Playwork No longer available
Level 4 Certificate in Playwork No longer available
Level 5 Diploma in Playwork 31 Aug 2019


In addition, City and Guilds offer a Level 2 Apprenticeship in Playwork and, for those who wish to progress their education in playwork, Leeds Beckett University offers a BA (Hons) in Childhood Development and Playwork and The University of Gloucestershire offer an MA in Professional Studies in Children’s Play

Apprenticeship Trailblazers

There is currently a government initiative to develop new apprenticeships in a range of sectors. According to the government’s website ‘an apprenticeship is a job with training. It enables someone to develop and demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to perform effectively in a particular occupation. The occupation is defined in the apprenticeship standard. Apprentices have a contract of employment, and are employees of the company which take them on. They must be paid at least the minimum wage for the duration of their apprenticeship.  Both apprentice and employer must sign an apprenticeship agreement. This identifies the skill, trade or occupation for which the apprentice is being trained, and confirms the standard that the apprentice is following. Apprenticeships must last a minimum of 12 months, with 20% structured off-the-job training which must be directly relevant to the apprenticeship, taking place before the end-point assessment, to develop competence in an occupation.’

Following an unsuccessful attempt to gain approval for a playwork apprenticeship, the employer group is seeking to expand its membership to refine and resubmit a proposal.  These employer groups are being named trailblazers and must represent the sector for which they aim to develop apprenticeship standards.

If you are interested in contributing to this development, email Amy Nicholls at CACHE on  as she is co-ordinating this development.


Take the play challenge!

May 10th, 2017 by

Michael Follett set up OPAL – Outdoor Play and Learning – five years ago. Since then, hundreds of schools across the UK, as well as schools in Canada, New Zealand and Australia have completed the OPAL Primary Programme.

Here, he explains how he persuades head teachers to invest in play development.

“The best way to describe the OPAL programme is that it blends the skills and experience of a school improvement adviser, a primary school teacher and a play worker into something that helps schools plan and improve every aspect of play, including policy, strategic planning, communication, human resources, health and safety, grounds planning, maintenance, playwork training, environment and resourcing.

It’s not easy changing the culture of a primary school, which is what OPAL aims to do. You have got to find a head teacher that wants to change, be able to convince all of the other teachers and supervisors that they want to change too, think of amazing ways to improve play with almost no money and overcome the universal challenges of risk and dirt aversion. This means being able to communicate with parents about the benefits of better play, and convince the majority of them that play is something every good school needs to take seriously.

I discovered very recently that you can’t win over everyone. At a very well attended parents information session at an OPAL school, a very honest parent told me after my talk. ‘I totally agree with you and think it is all really good stuff but the parents either side of me thought it’s a load of rubbish and don’t like it.’

OPAL school

In a literal sense they are right – the playground is now a load of rubbish and was described by a parent as looking like a refugee camp. As you can see, there are loose parts, big and small, everywhere! (One of the current play crazes is connecting play dens with multiple rooms and areas.) However, after having heard the talk and joined in on the playday, the majority of parents were able to see beyond the appearance of the junk materials and messy landscape and interpret the environment through their experience of their own children’s happiness. They could see that the scruffy old pallet and tarp and pile of sticks was a house: their child’s creation, and an expression of their creativity, imagination, collaboration, persistence and resilience. In many cases the parents joined in the play themselves with their children, and – by first hand experience and close observation – came to appreciate the value of the process.

Back in the classroom, parents sat with their children and talked about what they’d valued about their experience. One commented that she was struck by the statistics that children’s average screen time, at five hours a day, now exceeds many children’s hourly outdoor play time at five hours a week. They were also surprised that time for play took up 20% of their child’s school life. A total of 1.4 years of their primary school years. Some said they could now see past the junk and appreciated the value of the process behind it. It brought to mind a phrase my colleague Rachel Murray (Play Coordinator at the Cotswolds Blue Coat Primary) used at her school: ‘Play is beautiful but it is not always pretty’. In my work with many other schools the issue of mess and appearance regularly re-occurs. A clean and tidy appearance is something school promote both in dress and environment so the dirt and mess of great play presents real challenges.

One of the parents at the meeting raised the issue of the school uniform, commenting that in winter when everything is muddy there is extra work created by the several children coming home every day with really dirty clothes, which adds an intolerable amount of work and expense for busy parents. I could appreciate that this was a real concern to these parents, and, as a result of the meeting, the school is going to encourage those children for whom it is an issue to bring in old clothes to change into.

Another parent approached me in the playground and said that he ran a garage and that if he wanted to handle a lot of the kind of items the children were using in their play, then he would be expected to provide gloves and steel toecap footwear to his staff. He said his daughter had been hurt in the playground a few weeks before and how come the children could do all of this and still be okay with health and safety? I did my best to explain the reasons that I thought justified it.

Firstly, at his place of work his duty of care to his staff means he is trying to eliminate risk, while we are providing children with materials that present challenge and the opportunity to learn about, identify and manage risk. Then, that I had worked with the school on a clear policy that stated that the school sees value in play which includes risk and challenge and recognises this has to include the possibility for some accidents. I was also able to tell him that due to the concerns of a local authority in the North East about insurance, that the biggest insurers of local authorities and schools in the UK, had just looked at the kind of play and the kind of procedures OPAL is following and has said they were acceptable. I am not sure if I convinced him or not!

The message from the school, however, is overwhelmingly positive. The Head has acknowledged his initial nervousness on starting the programme; that he would be criticised for wasting money and time on play when there are so many pressing issues around standards and testing; that his school would be seen as a tip; that the problems of mud would overwhelm him and accidents would leave him open to criticism and litigation. In fact, he says there are less accidents, his children are happier, have far fewer behaviour problems; his teachers are getting more teaching time each day because there are fewer problems and his children’s skill set around creativity, collaboration, resilience and empathy are dramatically improving. In his words ‘an excellent school should have excellent play.’

The only hold up in OPAL’s approach being adopted nationally is the demand for evidence. Sizeable funds of £200,000 or more are needed for a scientifically valid research project. But where is the evidence for current practice? Where are the quantitative reports that demonstrate the benefits to children of shortening playtimes, of sitting indoors for longer and longer periods, of barren, dull, unchallenging playgrounds, of eliminating play from childhood and denying children from the space, materials and permissions they require for play?

I have been developing this approach for the best part of 20 years now and can show that every kind of school can provide excellent play whatever their grounds, size, location or budget. I can introduce you to over 200,000 children who have benefitted from amazing play in schools. I can give you the details of 200 head teachers who will vouch that excellent play in their schools has improved behaviour, teaching time, happiness, mental well-being, inclusion, activity, core strength, coordination, resilience, tolerance, empathy, and a host of other qualities and skills.

The issue of school budgets has been making the national headlines recently, but there is money available for play development. The government has doubled the PE or physical activity funding this year, and there is sufficient evidence from the British Medical Association and other sources that free outdoor play is by far the most effective way for children to be active, so play development is a perfectly legitimate way to spent the money. A strategic approach to play development in schools provides a sustainable, affordable and achievable way to improve activity for all the hard-to-reach children. OPAL’s evidence shows that those who do not benefit from the PE and sports approach almost universally respond to environments with a broad and rich play offer and improve in levels of activity, engagement and inclusion.

So, to all those head teachers out there: take the challenge and invest in play development!

Michael Follett is the author of ‘Creating Excellence in Primary School Playtimes’and Director of OPAL, Outdoor Play and Learning Community Interest Company

Job vacancy: Senior Development Officer

April 26th, 2017 by

Senior Development Officer (Ref: SDO 2017)

28 hours p/w, location to be negotiated
£24,737 (incl London weighting, if applicable)

Play England is looking for an experienced development officer to deliver the new ‘Adventure into Sport’ project. The post holder will work with a play project in Bradford, Yorkshire and another in Tower Hamlets, London to support the development and delivery of a pilot programme using play provision as a springboard for children aged 5+ and their parents to get into sport and an active lifestyle. The overall aim of the project is to inspire hard-to-reach children and their families to develop a positive and sustained relationship with sport and physical activity through the provision of age appropriate, fun activities in each of the two locations.

The successful candidate will have experience of successfully supporting communities to engage in developing play activities for and with local children and young people, planning and co-ordinating the delivery of projects, working closely with partner organisations and networks, and monitoring and reporting outcomes to funders. A willingness to travel to Yorkshire and London is essential.

This is a temporary fixed term post until 31 March 2018. Play England is happy to consider flexible working approaches such as job-shares, location-based job shares and secondments.

Closing date: Monday 15 May 2017
Interviews: Wednesday 24th May 2017

To find out more about the role download the job description and person specification below. More information about the work of Play England can be found on this website.

If you would like to discuss the position further please contact Nicola Butler on 07790 981 175.

Application form and further information can be downloaded here:

Application Form

Covering letter

Job Description and Person Specification

Please quote job title and reference number.

Applicants invited to interview may apply for reasonable reimbursement of travel expenses.

Quality in Play helps improve service delivery and secure funding

April 6th, 2017 by

Play England is delighted to be launching the latest edition of Quality in Play, a quality assurance system and framework that has been tried and tested in practice by hundreds of play and childcare providers for over 20 years.

As one of the original developers of Quality in Play, Mick Conway explains what all the fuss is about.

It’s really tough for the play sector and getting tougher in a new world of commissioning, so anything that can help play providers get ‘commission-ready’, win tenders and secure funding has to be a good thing. In an era of unprecedented government funding cuts, local authority commissioners and other funders are intensely focusing on the quality of services and value for money.

So how can Quality in Play (QiP) help? For play providers, the challenge is to demonstrate quality and value for money whilst at the same time working to the Playwork Principles to create and maintain excellent staffed play environments. Quality in Play is, essentially, about helping providers to achieve this, and being able to demonstrate it. And now, there is no cost for the latest edition of Quality in Play – it’s free to download from the Play England website.

QiP graphicQuality assurance sounds rather dry and bureaucratic. Systems, procedures, all that sort of stuff. But the reality is that once play providers actually start on the QiP journey, they find it incredibly rewarding. ‘It was a genuine process,’ says Keeks McGarry from Shiremoor Adventure Playground, ‘which involved everyone in the organisation – especially the children. It was challenging, particularly the reflective practice, but it helped us identify weak points and come up with solutions collectively.’

Mark Halden manages Glamis Adventure Playground in East London. ‘More and more funders are asking us for some sort of quality mark, and this is particularly so of our local council, who make it a condition of the Main Stream Grant, that we have a current quality assessment certificate. In addition, the rigorous process of QiP ensures that we review our policies and practices on a regular basis.’

So what does Quality in Play involve?

The manual takes you through a clear and systematic process, helping you assess every aspect of quality play provision. As a staff and management team, you work through the system at your own pace, creating a portfolio of evidence to show that you ‘say what you do, and do what you say.’ QiP is both a framework for service development and a quality assurance system: identifying strengths and areas needing development to get you to where you need to be to robustly demonstrate the quality of your service. In essence, building your portfolio is like getting a bespoke programme of management consultancy that doesn’t cost you a penny!

Play England offers a QiP assessment – a ‘critical friend’ visit and report from an experienced assessor who can provide independent confirmation that you meet quality standards, as well as making recommendations and advice for future development. The assessment costs £500. We encourage organisations to include the cost of the assessment when they make funding applications.

When I led the Quality in Play workshop at the National Playwork Conference, I let people into a little secret about some of the things we’re looking for when we do assessments! We visit your provision to go through the portfolio and talk to staff and management. But everything stops when the children arrive. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, we closely watch the body language of the children as they come into the place: how they interact with the staff, if they have to get permission or not to use resources or equipment, what choices they can and do make. We gain a huge insight into your playwork culture and ethos in those few minutes!

The QiP accreditation is nationally recognised as a credible and authoritative indicator of excellence in play provision.

Before the actual assessment, you’ll be asked to complete a pre-assessment checklist, to help make sure you’ve got all the paperwork and information needed. This means that the assessor’s visit can focus on how policies are put into practice on site.

In terms of support, we’re always on the end of the phone – although pretty much every single question we get can be answered in the ‘How to use the manual’ section, so please read it carefully! We’ve also set up a Facebook group to support organisations working towards accreditation, so you can ask questions and share good practice.

So, what are you waiting for?

Get your organisation going on the QiP journey!

This article was originally published in IpDip.

National Playwork Conference success

March 14th, 2017 by

Play England would like to thank Meynell Games and all those in the playwork sector who made the National Playwork Conference such an informative, inclusive and welcoming event.

Chair of Trustees, Nicola Butler introducing the AGM

We had a great turnout for our AGM on the eve of the conference with guest speaker Mike Greenaway of Play Wales, and our special Conference newsletter was well received. Download it here:


We would also like to thank the playworkers, landscape architects, researchers and practitioners who contributed to the workshops and roundtable discussions we hosted across the conference.

Future of Playwork Qualifications

quals roundtableThis important roundtable discussion on the future of playwork qualifications drew together clear action points to defend playwork qualifications, including lobbying awarding bodies CACHE and City & Guilds.

Find out more here:

Design for Play

Design4PlayLandscape Architect Aileen Shackell looked at the impact of ‘Design for Play’ – ten years on, working through the Ten Play Design Principles, at the core of this ground-breaking approach to creating successful play spaces.

Download the Ten Play Design Principles here

Quality in Play relaunch

QiP graphicWe relaunched the latest edition of ‘Quality in Play’ – a quality assurance system developed by playwork practitioners over 20 years to support supervised play and childcare provision for school-aged children – with a great workshop from Mick Conway, who conceived of the scheme and is passionate about helping playwork providers be the best that they can be.

Find out more about Quality in Play here:

Erasmus Saferplay project

Karina Pernias, AIJU, introduces the Saferplay project

Karina Pernias, AIJU, introduces the Saferplay project

Saferplay workshopWe also held a stand-alone session with our Erasmus Saferplay partners, to promote this innovative on-line training course and share experiences and knowledge of playwork provision across Europe.

Find out more about Erasmus SAFERPLAY here:

National Playwork Awards

Finally, Play England is absolutely delighted and proud that three of our Trustees were among the winners of National Playwork awards this year.

Libby Truscott, was a key member of the ‘Save Watford Adventure Playground’ campaign team who won Raising the Profile Award.

Trustee Kirsty Wilson is Play Manager of Children’s Scrapstore Bristol, who won the Development and Support Award for their contribution towards the sustainability and understanding of free play by helping others to provide excellent playwork.

And, Nicola Butler, our Chair of Trustees, won the Paul Bonel Memorial Award, for her significant contribution to the play and playwork sector.

Read more about the Playwork Awards here:


Future of Playwork Qualifications

March 13th, 2017 by

Play England hosted an important roundtable discussion last week at the National Playwork Conference on the future of Playwork qualifications. The meeting came out with clear action points to move forward. These include:

1. Supporting and promoting the new Playwork apprenticeship ‘Trailblazer’ qualification. New apprenticeship will not have the restrictions on age that previous apprenticeships have had, so it will be an important way for the play sector to take on new staff and get them trained and qualified.
See Play England’s submission here:

2. Lobbying CACHE and City & Guilds to extend registration of the Diploma in Playwork Levels 2, 3 and 5
Download our model letter here:

Tel: 0345 347 2123 (calls charged at local rates)

City and Guilds
Tel: 0844 543 0000 (5p per minute)


Play England will also be working closely with Play Wales to explore the possibility of accessing P3 qualification (Playwork Principles in Practice) in England.

This roundtable followed the announcement last year of the withdrawal of Playwork qualifications. See our statement in response here: