Open all hours project: promoting access and play in school grounds for children

In many communities in Wales, school grounds offer neutral space that provides opportunities for outdoor play in the local community. In 2013, the Welsh Government commissioned Play Wales, the non-governmental organisation for children’s play, to develop a toolkit to assist school communities and their partners to make school grounds available for children’s play out of teaching hours.

Absorbing school play spaces into wider community life

The Welsh Government is taking a global lead on promoting the importance of children’s play and for the first time, legislating to place a duty on local authorities to assess the sufficiency of play and recreational opportunities for children in their areas. In statutory guidance, the Welsh Government states that schools can provide valuable play space at weekends and during holiday periods if the school is organised to allow for this. (Welsh Government 2014)

Evidence from national State of Play reviews undertaken by Play Wales suggested that school grounds across Wales are substantially under-utilised and not accessed by children for playing. (Play Wales 2015)

With funding from the Welsh Government, Play Wales developed the Use of school grounds for playing out of teaching hours toolkit. It is designed to help local organisations and community play advocates to work with head teachers, governors and school communities to consider making school grounds available to local children out of teaching hours.

Piloting and researching the toolkit

Using funding from The Millennium Stadium Charitable Fund, Play Wales worked with the Education and Early Childhood Studies team at Cardiff Metropolitan University to research and pilot the toolkit. The research framework identified:

  • The value of play
  • Practical realities of keeping the school gates open
  • Risk and benefits
  • Barriers
  • Outcomes

The Open all Hours project engaged with three school communities to identify the most appropriate model for using the school grounds for playing out of teaching hours. Student volunteers received play and playwork training and facilitated the play sessions using loose parts in schools. The project also evaluated the effectiveness of the tools, and identified the impact on children, schools and the wider community. The pilot findings were used to inform and update a new edition of the toolkit.

Key messages

From early on, it has been clear that the Open All Hours project was supporting more children to play outdoors with other children after school, whilst also contributing to the professional development of the student volunteers.

Playing contributes to children’s health and wellbeing. Having welcoming places to play and gather within communities improves children’s sense of community and belonging. Parents valued the social play their children experienced.

The project also demonstrated that schools and communities can be enriched when they engage with each other more fully, resulting in:

  • community access to facilities and opportunities already held within their community
  • parents reporting improvements in child behaviour and social skills
  • improved local availability of play opportunities

Author: Marianne Mannello 

Photo Credit: Photo by Marianne Mannello

Interested in hearing more on Marianne’s research? Join us at the Child in the City Conference in Ghent, Belgium on the 7-9 November!

View our conference website here!


Welsh Government (2014) Wales – A Play Friendly Country. Cardiff: Welsh Government Crown Copyright

Play Wales (2015) Use of school grounds for playing out of teaching hours.  Cardiff: Play Wales

Author: Marianne Mannello

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