Putting play at the heart of London’s schools

The charity London Play has launched ‘The Playtime Project’ to ‘put play at the heart of London’s schools’. A pilot will run until May 2017, with a London-wide roll out planned later that year.

The Playtime Project’s aim is to respond to the mounting evidence that children learn better when they have regular opportunities to play, freely and unfettered during the school day. It is inspired by the Finnish primary education model, where play is seen as a tool for learning; the most appropriate predominant activity for primary school children (1).

There is growing concern in the UK play sector that, as free play provision is cut and most London children do not have independent access to green space, the school play area is becoming am increasingly important play space for many of them. London Play believes it is therefore essential that play in schools is not an after-thought, but a core part of the school offer, alongside children’s formal learning.

The pilot project will work with 5 schools in the London Boroughs of Waltham Forest and Enfield and produce materials for teachers, school governors, parents and children, encouraging active play in school, at home and in the community.

Key project elements

The project will include:

  • Individual school play strategies, drafted by London Play.
  • Free training sessions for school staff on play’s potential to enhance learning.
  • Play champions within the teaching and assistants staff team.
  • Promoting alternatives to the removal of playtime as a sanction.
  • Maximising the school’s play space and suggesting funding sources to develop them further.
  • Reviewing and/or refashioning play spaces that encourage children to play actively and exceed the daily-recommended hour of physical activity.
  • Consulting with children on changes to their play space.
  • Schools to consider setting up daily play street sessions at the school gates at the beginning and end of the day.
  • Working with the local authorities and other bodies to explore clean air zones around the school that will restrict traffic and encourage walking/cycling to school.

The last two elements dovetail with efforts by the Mayor of London and others to achieve cleaner air in the capital. This is an urgent element of the project and London Play will prioritize schools that exceed EU limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution according to the Mayor’s standards (2). Each participating class will get its own ‘Pablo’, a teddy bear in need of play that goes home for adventures each weekend with a different child. The adventures will be logged in Pablo’s diary and on returning to the class on Monday the pupil will tell the class what Pablo has been up to.

The Playtime Pilot will reach 1,000 pupils and 2,000 families in Enfield and Waltham Forest to promote the importance of play for children’s physical, mental and social development, thus encouraging happier, healthier and more productive adulthoods. It will lay the foundations for a three-year rollout across the whole of the London area.

Project Outputs

The Playtime project will:

  • Produce a written resource pack for families and schools on play’s manifold benefits, and ways to be playful outside school time, thus supporting children’s growth and benefiting homes and communities;
  • Collaborate with the local authorities, schools, the Mayor’s Office and the Healthy Schools initiative to develop a play standard, to be awarded to schools with good “play” offers and an understanding of its importance;
  • Educate parents and carers, teachers, lunchtime supervisors and classroom assistants to ensure that play time is exactly that;
  • Encourage schools to recruit playworkers and parent volunteers to aid delivery;
  • Advise on after-school activities that promote and develop play (e.g. utilising the Quality in Play, quality assurance scheme);
  • Link schools to London Play’s existing annual play awards.
  • Finally, London Play will prepare the way for the three-year project’s rollout through a PR campaign on social media and in the press.

Why is the project needed?

Children’s ability to play in London is under attack, threatened by poor planning (especially new-build housing projects that side-line or ignore play) and choked by traffic. Freedom to play is stifled by fear and eroded by too much homework. Lack of play is a major factor in growing obesity among children (3). It has also been linked to growing anxiety and depression: 10% of 5-16-year-olds suffer diagnosable mental health disorders – around three in every class, nearly doubling between the 1980s and the 2000s (Nuffield Foundation, 2013).

The project resource pack will explain to pupils, teachers and parents, play’s vital role in combating these physical and mental deficits; the new school play standard will give all parties an aspirational benchmark; and the pilot will lay the groundwork for a programme to promote play across the capital.

Author: Adrian Voce

Photo Credit: photo by Ashton Bingham


(1) Finnish education is regularly in the top ten of the global rankings for schools, and topped the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings in 2000, 2003, and 2006.

(2) Analysing Air Pollution Exposure in London, Mayor of London (2010)

(3) According to the 2016 London Poverty Profile, the proportion of obese 11-year-olds has risen in 23 of London’s 33 boroughs

Author: Adrian Voce

3 comments op “Putting play at the heart of London’s schools”

Tim Gill|20.10.16|10:47

That’s great news Adrian. Who is funding the project?

Adrian Voce|20.10.16|16:18

I’m not sure Tim, but I’ll find out. I took this from a London Play news release so Paul Hocker is our man.

Brenda Lichtblau Simon|21.10.16|17:38

Earth Day Canada has a very similar pilot running in Toronto Canada this year with the Toronto District School Board. Funded by the Lawson Foundation, and flying under the banner of Outdoor Play and Learning (in colloration with OPAL.U.K.) we are working with 6 schools to train them in play-work and “loose parts” for recess and lunch-hours. This includes changes to school policies in favour of the rights of the child. So far, the children and school staff are loving it!

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