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How to Improve Early Years Provision Through Outdoor Play Equipment

Ofsted loves a good playground. Many outstanding primary schools, pre-schools and nurseries are often praised for creating well-resourced playgrounds that enable high-quality learning to take place outside of the classroom. In this post, we’ll explain what Ofsted sees as important for school playgrounds and show you how you can improve early years provision through your own outdoor spaces.

What does Ofsted look for in a school playground?

Primarily, Ofsted wants to see a playground that can be used as an outdoor learning space. For EYFS and primary pupils, they are looking for facilities and equipment that helps children:

  • learn and practise their literacy and numeracy skills
  • improve physical development
  • enhance learning about the environment
  • stimulate their imaginations
  • participate in well planned and focused learning activities

In the rest of this post, we’ll show you how you can achieve these things in your own playground.

1. Developing literacy and numeracy skills

One of the key skills for EYFS children is learning letters and numbers and the best way to do this outdoors is to make it a fun activity. One example of how this can be achieved is to install a small traversing wall in which the handgrips children hold on to are the letters of the alphabet or where the grips are numbered.  

Other resources include playground markings, such as alphabet targets, footwork vowels and phonetic spots for literacy, and number arches, number grids and hopscotch games for numeracy.


With resources for encouraging roleplay to develop speaking and listening and table top and upright boards for mark making, it is easy to set your playground up as the ideal place for young pupils to learn literacy and numeracy.

2. Improve physical development

There are lots of outdoor playground resources to improve a child’s physical development. These can increase physical fitness through aerobic activities, develop muscular strength or work on skills such as balance and agility.

The best thing about them is that they are great to play on. They motivate and stimulate children into getting active and, as a result, they see physical activity as something fun rather than as a chore. To give you an example of just a few of the things you can do, here at ESP Play we have play towers to climb on and slide down, exciting trim trail obstacle courses to complete and a wide range of playground markings to encourage active play and sports.    

3. Enhance learning about the environment

Ideally, every school should have an outdoor area where pupils can learn to appreciate the environment. If you don’t have the luxury of a school garden or field, however, there are resources that encourage wildlife to come into your school grounds. These include bug houses, butterfly boxes, bird feeders and ladybird towers.

To complement these, you can add a range of planters and trellises and even a discovery planter to create your own nature zone. All these resources encourage children to develop an interest in and an appreciation for the nature in their own backyard. At the same time, they provide teachers with the facilities needed to help children learn about nature and the environment.

4. Stimulate children’s imaginations

One of the best ways to develop children’s imaginations is to provide them with ample time for unstructured activities where they are free to let their minds wander. However, to get the most from this, Ofsted recognises that schools need to provide the equipment that will stimulate imaginative play.

Luckily, there is so much equipment available to do this, that it is possible to create an entire adventure world in which children can roleplay to their heart’s content. Our imaginative playground equipment includes mountains, mines, tunnels, bridges, warped mirrors, play huts, teepees, den making posts, carriages, trains, mud kitchens, shop kiosks, outdoor musical instruments and much more. All of which can be installed on child-safe playground surfacing.

With facilities like this in your playground, there is no end of things that children can explore through roleplay and imagination.

5. Participate in well-planned and focused learning activities

It’s not just the resources that you use that will get you praise from Ofsted, it’s how you utilise them in children’s learning. To get the most out of them, you need to use them as a resource in structured lessons, besides letting children use them for free play. The possibilities, however, are endless. With the resources mentioned in this post, you can plan lessons that cover many aspects of the EYFS curriculum. Here’s just an example:

  • Use the shop kiosk to create roleplay scenarios for developing communication and language.
  • Set up a trim trail obstacle course to develop physical coordination, control and movement skills.
  • Give children roles to carry out using imaginative equipment to develop social skills.
  • Play bean bag catching games on the phonic spots to develop phonic skills.
  • Play counting games using the number grid to help with basic addition and subtraction.
  • Plan activities to observe changes in the bug house or butterfly boxes to help with understanding the environment.
  • Use outdoor musical instruments to explore sound for the expressive arts element of EYFS.


As you can see, when it comes to EYFS, learning doesn’t have to be confined to the indoor space. Using outdoor playground equipment enables you to extend and enhance the provision you deliver to young pupils, giving them a far richer learning experience – one that both they and Ofsted will appreciate.

For more information, take a look at our specific range of EYFS equipment, designed to complement all seven areas of the EYFS curriculum.


How to Improve Playground Behaviour and Safety

Putting children in an open space with unstructured activities and limited adult supervision can cause problems, especially when you have the whole school using the space at the same time. This makes lunch and break times a period of increased risk for the safety of children. One way to reduce that risk is to improve pupil behaviour in the playground. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the ways this can be achieved.

What behaviours need to be managed?

When we talk about playground behaviour, we are referring to a range of things that children do which can have health and safety concerns. Whilst bullying is something that easily comes to mind, there are less extreme behaviours which can also be risky, such as going into ‘out of bounds’ areas, playing ball games near windows, climbing on walls or playing physical games in high traffic areas.

With the exception of bullying, none of these are malicious; yet most children know they are breaking a rule when they do them. To make a playground safer, therefore, the aim is to stop this behaviour happening. Whilst better policing might be one way to reduce the number of incidents where rules get broken, a better strategy would be to address the causes of these behaviours. Here are some ways you can do this in your playground.

1. Reducing bullying by reducing boredom

One factor that can increase incidents of bullying in the playground is boredom. According to an article in The Telegraph, a report, commissioned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, claims that playground bullying is directly linked to a lack of stimulation and that one sixth of UK children suffer from break time boredom.

The key to resolving playground bullying, then, is in providing something interesting for children to do. Children who are engaged and happy are far less likely to pick on other children. According to the same Telegraph article, the charity Landscapes for Learning says that schools that have transformed their playgrounds have seen a 64% reduction in bullying. They’ve seen vandalism fall by 28%, too.

Transforming your playground is no longer a difficult task. The variety of high-quality playground equipment now available means schools can cater for the needs of children all the way from EYFS to the top end of secondary school. This doesn’t just include things for the sporty kids either; there’s equipment for arty kids, nature lovers, adventure seekers, mud pie makers and much more.

2. Improve behaviour through managing space

One way to stop pupils playing physical activities in areas where they might cause injury or damage is to divide your playground into discrete activity zones. For example, if you have children wanting to play football during the break times this can be done quite easily with the installation of playground markings. You can also add a sports playground surface to this area as well, such as wetpour surfacing or artificial grass.

By installing these dedicated activity areas, you provide the incentive pupils need to behave more considerately towards others. They will be much more likely to use the facilities on offer and as a result, the risk of accidents is reduced.

It’s not just the setting up of a sports zone that can improve the way children behave, though. It’s about setting up a range of different zones and locating them in the most appropriate place. For example, if you install a sand and water play zone for your infant pupils, you might not want your juniors to take over the area. Locating this near a place that is easily supervised and which can be fenced off will discourage older pupils from going in an area they know is out of bounds.

3. Stop rule breaking by providing essential facilities

Children are great improvisers. If you don’t provide them with a ball, they’ll use a plastic bottle or a tin can; if you don’t give them somewhere to sit, they’ll use a wall, a windowsill or some steps. With the latter, you’ll find many schools where there are no seating facilities at all in the playground and yet there are rules forbidding children from sitting on walls, windowsills and steps for health and safety reasons.

Whilst it’s understandable why the rules are in place, it’s equally as understandable why children choose to ignore them. What’s not understandable is why schools don’t provide adequate facilities in the first place. Playground seating is relatively inexpensive, lasts a very long time and when put in the right place stops children breaking rules and risking getting injured.

You can do this with bins to prevent the dropping of litter, with playground paving to encourage children to follow rules about moving safely from area to area, and with picnic tables to make sure they eat their snacks and lunches is designated areas.


A well-equipped school playground can have a big impact on behaviour and safety. Not only does it remove one of the main causes of bullying, it also helps manage minor behaviour issues that can lead to the risk of accident and injury. When installed, children naturally begin to use the equipment in ways which make playgrounds safer and which reduces the burden on those staff who are on duty.

If you are considering transforming your playground, check out our wide range of outdoor play equipment or take advantage of our free playground design service.


How Does a School Business Manager Add Value to Pupils’ Education?

In the thirty years since the introduction of Grant Maintained Status, school management has changed dramatically. Today, with the rise of academies, much of a school’s administration falls under the leadership of the school business manager.

Far more than a bursar, the business manager is usually a member of the senior leadership team and carries out a wide range of duties. Their responsibilities often include school finance, income generation, publicity and marketing, building management, HR and health and safety.

With most senior teachers having limited management experience in these areas, it makes sense to delegate responsibilities to someone with the necessary skills so that the teaching staff can focus on educational areas: teaching and learning, curriculum, progress and attainment, etc.

However, school business management and school education management should not be conceived as being separate. As I mentioned in my recent YouTube video, The Importance of School Business Mangers, “the key objective of any school is about maximising the attainment of every child and to create as many positive experiences that they will remember,” and the business manager has a big role to play in making that happen.

Here are some of the important ways a school business manager can add value to pupils’ education.

1. Making the school improvement plan financially feasible

The purpose of any school improvement plan is to raise the attainment and achievement of pupils but putting these plans into action does have an impact on the school budget. You may need to recruit additional staff, reallocate existing staff, procure new resources or buy in third-party expertise.

A good business manager will assist here by providing robust financial management to the improvement planning process. They will help make significant savings and identify alternative funds to ensure that the school’s objects are financially viable.

2. Saving money through best value

Business managers are experts when it comes to getting the best value. They have the experience, for example, to negotiate the best contracts with the external services the school needs. This can include supply agencies, catering companies, classroom resource providers, coach hire companies and school window cleaners. The results here not only mean savings that the school can reallocate to improving teaching and learning but more efficient and better-quality services, too.

It’s not just in the procurement of resources that a business manager can improve efficiencies. They also ensure that the school makes the most effective use of its resources. Moving training days from winter to summer can save hundreds of pounds on heating and lighting bills, better management of staff absence can reduce the number of sick days and save thousands, as can moving the school’s IT server to a third-party cloud hosting company.

3. Taking responsibility for non-teaching staff

Many school business managers become the senior line manager for non-teaching staff within a school and this can have an enormous impact. One of the first big gains is that a senior teacher no longer has to fulfil this role and, thus, they’ll have more time to concentrate on school development.

More than this, however, is the way that business managers can restructure the working arrangements of the non-teaching staff so the school functions more effectively. Introducing new protocols for admin staff can help reduce the admin workload for teachers and give them more time to focus on the classroom. They can also manage the performance of non-teaching staff and ensure that effective training is put in place to enable the school to perform even better.

This can mean classrooms are cleaner, playgrounds are better supervised, teaching assistants are better allocated, photocopying is done quicker, resources are easier to find and consumables are always in stock. All of which can have a valuable impact.

4. Finding additional funding

School business managers are adept at bidding for external funding. They have the experience and skills to ensure that bids for funds are completed accurately and meet the criteria which are needed. For many schools, the amount of additional funding found by a business manager covers their salary many times over. These types of bid enable schools to undertake big capital projects which otherwise would be impossible.

Thanks to business managers, schools up and down the country have new roofs, new outdoor sporting equipment, modern IT suites, minibuses, better disabled access and extra teachers. Some funds will even cover the cost of building of new classrooms or sports halls. Of course, better facilities and resources have a positive impact on learning and help improve attainment.  

Besides submitting bids, business managers are also very good at earning extra funds from the school premises – such as letting out the rooms for adult evening classes or charging local sports teams to use the school playing fields. They can also get local businesses to sponsor school teams or events. Although these are not new ideas, many schools did not benefit from them in the past simply because staff were too focused on other things or lacked the know-how. Business managers don’t waste opportunities like these.

5. Enrichment

Education is not just about attainment. It’s also about enriching children’s lives. Here, the business manager has a role to play as well. Whilst the cost of many small enrichment activities, such as school trips, are usually helped by parental contributions, some of the bigger projects are often shelved because of lack of funds.

At ESP Play, for example, we hear from many schools who are keen to develop their school playgrounds and outdoor areas. The facilities they want will enrich the lives of students in many ways: improved physical and mental health, encouraging independence, boosting social skills, developing creativity and even enabling the creation of an outdoor classroom.

The school business manager is the key person in a school to help bring these enrichment plans to fruition. Through shrewd management, finding additional funding or careful budgeting, they are the ones that have the skills to make enrichment a reality.

6. Freeing up the Head

As the leader of the school, it’s the headteacher who drives it forward. It’s their vision and passion that motivates and inspires staff and pupils to greater achievements. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that, according to the government whitepaper, The Importance of Teaching, a school business manager can free up a third of a headteacher’s time. How valuable is that in enabling a school to improve children’s education?


So, how does a school business manager add value to pupils’ education? The simple answer is that they do it in many ways. They bring in much needed funds, they make sure that existing finances are used effectively, they improve the way that resources are procured and used, and they make people work smarter and in more efficient ways. Through this, they ensure that funding and resources have the biggest possible impact on children’s learning and improve their overall experience of school.


How to Encourage Free Play Through Playground Design

Free play is a fundamental part of child development, enabling children to learn a range of important skills whilst broadening their understanding of the world in which they live.

For schools and EYFS providers, one of your key tasks is to equip your playground with resources that give pupils all the motivation and opportunity they need to indulge themselves in free play.

In this post, we’ll look at the best way to go this for your outdoor environment.

Designing your outdoor free play environment

When creating your free play area, there are a number of things to consider: it’s got to be safe, it has to give children a range of stimulating activities, and it needs to offer opportunities for developing social, thinking, creative and physical skills. The best way to achieve this is to design your playground so that it is made up of different zones.

Establishing zones enables you to have control over what activities take place in different areas of your outdoor space. This is great for making things safe and for establishing microenvironments that can function well without being impinged upon by what happens in the near vicinity. For example, you don’t want children coming down a slide to be hit by a ball, or a noisy activity disrupting something which requires quiet concentration.

Another added benefit of creating zones in this way is that they require less adult intervention. When you place your zones in the right places, free play can go on, uninterrupted, without teachers or staff members continually having to warn children about potential safety hazards.

It is possible to create a wide variety of different zones. Whilst available space and budget will influence what you choose, the biggest factor will be the age, interests and needs of the children you teach. Here are some examples of different zones you may want to consider.

1. Physical activity zones

An active play zone is great for encouraging kids to play together and is a fun way for them to get physical exercise and develop physical skills. There is a wide variety of equipment which can be used to create this area including play towers which have rope climbing nets, swinging bridges and slides; wooden balance equipment; trim trail obstacle course equipment; and climbing walls. There is also a range of playground markings such as hopscotch and steppers.  

If you have more space, you can install mini roadways, complete with road signs, zebra crossings and bridges for children to drive their ride-on toys or trikes around. Alternatively, there’s sports equipment like football and netball pitches.


2. Imaginative and creative zones

Younger children love imaginative play and it’s vital for their social and cognitive development that they get the opportunity. There is a huge selection of imaginary playground equipment for you to choose from which will encourage them to go off on the most unbelievable role play adventures. These include logs to crawls through, magical distorting mirrors, shop kiosks, play huts, bridges, wigwams, sit on wooden trains, and much more. All you need to add is a basket of costumes and props and they’ll be transported to their imaginary world in a flash.

If you are wanting to develop a more artistically creative zone, there are also panels and tables specially designed for painting, drawing and mark making as well a whole selection of fun outdoor musical instruments, such as chimes, drainpipe drums, xylophones and washboards.

3. Wet and mucky zones

Childhood wouldn’t be childhood without water, sand and mud pies. They’re key ingredients for having fun and developing sensory skills at the same time. With everything from sand pits, mud kitchens, and water and sand play equipment to choose from, there’s nothing to stop you creating what is sure to be one of the children’s favourite places to play.

4. Nature zones

Nature zones offer young children three things: somewhere to learn about and appreciate nature; the ability to take part in a spot of gardening; and somewhere quiet to escape the noisiness of the other zones.

You can help foster an appreciation of nature by growing plants and by encouraging birds and insects to visit the zone. There is a range of planters and trellises which can be used to grow plants and there are also butterfly boxes, insect habitats, ladybird towers and bird tables available to install. Fence off the zone to protect it when it’s not in use and you could soon see your own mini nature reserve in your school or nursery playground.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you getting the children to participate in the gardening by planting flowers, herbs and vegetables in the growing boxes, digging pits and herb planters. You can even put up a range of interchangeable nature boards to help them identify different flora and fauna that they might see or grow.

By setting your nature zone some distance from the noisier zones, not only do you encourage birds and insects to visit your nature zone, but you also create the calm atmosphere these areas need. Its’ the perfect place to tell stories, sit and chat in the sunshine or even have lunch – picnic tables and seats that look like mushrooms are available. Check out our full range of nature equipment.  

Other ideas

Of course, you don’t have to create the zones we suggest, the beauty of outdoor playground equipment is that you can create the zones you think will work best for your pupils. Other things which you may find useful include den making equipment which can be great at helping children learn to work together in small teams, and covered areas, such as shelters, canopies and pergolas, which enable outdoor play when it’s raining.

Playground surfacing

With all this activity going on, the one thing you shouldn’t overlook is the playground surfacing. Different zones are often best served by different surfaces. For example, you may want your nature zone lawned with natural grass but want your active zone to have a cushioned surface to protect from scrapes and falls. There’s also artificial grass, rubber mulching, wet pour surfacing, resin bound gravel, grass matting and block paving available. There is a surface to suit every type of zone.


Outdoor free play environments give children every opportunity they need to learn while they play. Hopefully, this post will have shown you that through the creation of different zones you can empower you children in ways that are safe, motivate participation and stimulate learning. For more information about our range of school playground equipment, visit our products page or call us on 01282 43 44 45.


How to Turn Your Playground into a Stimulating Environment

When creating a stimulating environment, many schools put all their focus indoors. You see fabulous classrooms and corridors but when you look outside all you find is a dull rectangle of grey asphalt. Ofsted, however, expect to see more. They want your outdoor space as a place where learning and personal development can continue during the children’s free time.

For those looking to develop their playground, here are some ideas of how you can make it more stimulating for pupils and inspectors alike.

What should you be trying to achieve?

According to audit tools from the Essex County Council and the National Strategies, schools and EYFS providers should be asking the following questions when assessing the quality of their outdoor environment:

  • Do children have access to a well-resourced outdoor environment?
  • Is the area well organised, inviting and challenging?
  • Does the playground enable children to develop their independence?
  • Are there are opportunities for children to be physical?

In the rest of this post, we’ll show you how you can develop your playground in a way that you can give a positive response to each of the questions above.

Creating a well-resourced playground

How you resource your playground depends on the pupils. The resources you install need to be appropriate for the children’s age, abilities and interests. The starting point, therefore, needs to be some form of pupil consultation so you can discover what features they would like to see.

For secondary students, this might include something as simple as having a playground shelter or some seating and furniture where they can sit and chat with friends. They might also want some sports markings to play football, netball or basketball. It’s unlikely that these things alone, however, could be regarded as well-resourced. Luckily, there is plenty more secondary school playground equipment on offer: outdoor table tennis, multi-gyms, trim-trails, climbing walls and much more.

For primary and EYFS pupils, there is a whole wealth of stimulating equipment on offer. For those who like more tactile activities there are water play tables and sand boxes. There are even a mud kitchens and sand pits. We’ve also got den building equipment, outdoor musical instruments and we can even install a play road to drive those trikes around!

At these ages, one of the things schools want to stimulate most is a child’s imagination and there are lots pieces of equipment to help them achieve this. Here at ESP Play, our imaginary playground equipment includes play huts, hollow logs, distorting mirrors, shop kiosks, bridges, sit on wooden trains, wigwams, and much more.

An organised, inviting and challenging playground

Organising your playground essentially means designing the layout of your equipment in a way that is safe and practical. For example, you don’t want to put football markings directly next to a climbing frame in case a climber gets hit by the ball and falls off.

Luckily, at ESP Play, we’ve had years of practice designing playgrounds and have a wealth of experience working with schools. We will work with you to design a playground that is perfect for your school and pupils. Of course, our playground design service is free.

Making your playground inviting isn’t just about putting in brightly coloured or interesting looking resources, though these help. What’s more important is that you have equipment that the children really want to use. Most year 11 students, for example, aren’t going to be too enamoured by a sand pit. To make your playground work, get Student Voice involved right from the start.

When it comes to creating a challenging playground, there are lots of resources available. Interchangeable Trim Trails, climbing walls and All-Go Gyms, for example, all enable pupils to challenge themselves to do things which are increasingly difficult, which may require them to overcome fears or which encourage them to set new personal bests.

Helping children develop independence

Children become independent when they can do things for themselves. To get there, however, they need the self-confidence to have a go and the resilience to pick themselves up and start again when they fail.

Once again, trim trails and climbing walls are excellent resources for doing this. Trim trails are obstacle courses which, because some of their components are interchangeable, can be made increasingly challenging. They are fun to play on and are great for building self-confidence and resilience. The same applies to our climbing walls. A child may have to make several attempts to get from one side to the other before they achieve success.

The self-confidence and resilience developed using these types of equipment can then be used in other areas of learning to develop their all-round independence.

Giving opportunities to be physical

play towers

Much of the equipment already mentioned above provides plenty of opportunities for children to get physical exercise in the school playground. Trim trails, climbing walls and All-GO Gyms are great for developing muscle strength, balance and stamina whilst football, netball and basketball are good aerobic exercises.

However, after sitting down for a few hours in the classroom, equipment that motivates pupils to do any form of physical activity is welcome. This can be achieved just as much with imaginative playground equipment, through the wide range of playground marking games or through traditional playground installations such as play towers and slides.


As you can see, things have moved on from the days when playground equipment amounted to a couple of school jumpers for goal posts and a half-deflated football borrowed from the PE teacher. Today, Ofsted wants to see playgrounds play their part in helping young people develop and stay healthy. Hopefully, this post will have shown you how to create a stimulating playground environment and given you some ideas of how to equip it.

For more ideas, visit our products page or call us on 01282 43 44 45.