What makes a good school playground?

What makes a good school playground?

The footprint of a school playground is frequently larger than that of the school itself. Only recently, however, have schools begun to realise the enormous potential that these incredible spaces have to offer. From our experience of designing and installing playgrounds across the country, here are what we consider to be the things that make a good school playground in the 2020s.

Safety

Child safety is an essential ingredient of a good school playground and should always be the primary concern when upgrading. Best practice begins with your choice of playground contractor. Always choose a playground specialsit with lots of experience working with schools and which provides not just high-quality products and first-class installation, but also offers regular inspections and maintenance to keep the playground safe.

Other important considerations include dividing the playground into areas for children of different ages, for example, giving nursery pupils their own space away from the bigger children in Key Stages 1 and 2. The installation of modern playground surfaces, such as rubber mulch and wet pour surfacing, is also important because it reduces the chance of injury, especially when used around climbing apparatus. Finally, consider the use of activity zones, which prevent one form of activity interfering with another and potentially causing harm.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Every child should be able to access and benefit from a school’s outdoor space and it’s important to consider this at the outset of the design phase. Appropriate surfacing needs to be installed with pathways wide enough for wheelchairs and assisted movement.

Where possible, apparatus should allow disabled access or be adapted to assist with this, for example, providing ramps and rails that let those with disabilities play with their friends on the equipment. Even simple things, like picnic tables that are designed for wheelchairs to fit under, can make a great deal of difference.

Finally, you need to consider a range of play equipment that meets the needs of all and appeals to everyone’s interests. This is where zoning comes into its own, as it enables you to have discrete zones for things like sports, climbing, creativity, roleplay, sensory play and messy play (mud, sand and water), as well as quiet, nature zones.

A good school playground can be used all year round

While you cannot control the seasons or the weather, there are quite a few things you can do to make your outdoor spaces usable throughout the year. The use of slip-resistant and self-draining playground surfacing can make your outdoor area safe and usable in wet and cold weather, while artificial grass can be used all year round and grass matting prevents natural lawns becoming a slippery quagmire.

The installation of trellises and the planting of shrubs not only adds a touch of greenery but if put in the right places, can provide shelter from biting winds. Octagonal shelters, with built-in seating, can accommodate a classful of pupils in wet, windy and overly sunny conditions. Verandas and sun sails can do the same.

A place for learning and fun

While play is an essential part of the learning process for children, a good school playground is also a place to deliver much more of the curriculum. While MUGA, gym, pitch markings, multi-skills zone and sports equipment are some of the many PE options, today, there are outdoor resources for many subject areas. Schools can install storytelling circles, science investigation tables, weather measuring centres, plant growing equipment, outdoor musical instruments, playground stages and much more. There is subject-specific equipment, purpose-built for outdoor use, for maths, English, science, art, music, design and technology, geography, history and languages.

Creating an outdoor classroom means less demand for internal space and provides teachers and pupils with a completely different learning environment, one where there is the space to take part in active learning and the freedom to explore the world around them.

A playground for health and wellbeing

Children’s physical and mental wellbeing is a key issue at the moment: 12.5 per cent of UK pupils aged 5 to 18 suffer from a mental disorder and instances of childhood obesity continue to rise. While physical activity has been shown to have a positive effect on both mental and physical health, modern lifestyles mean children have little opportunity to get the recommended hour a day that health professionals say they need.

By choosing the right type of playground equipment, schools not only facilitate physical activity; they encourage pupils to increase participation. This makes pupils more active in the short term and helps them develop healthier lifestyles over the long term. What’s more, it can help those with mental disorders like depression and anxiety cope better with their illnesses while potentially preventing others from developing disorders at all.

When planning a school playground, its impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of pupils should be taken into consideration. Sports, climbing and obstacle course activities are not only great fun, they require lots of physical exertion. At the same time, quiet nature areas are ideal for those who need some respite during the school day.

Conclusion

As you can see from this post, playgrounds can become highly valuable resources for schools, enabling pupils to have fun, socialise, learn and improve their health and wellbeing. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned here will inspire you to create the perfect outdoor space for your pupils.

For more ideas, visit our products page.

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Playground Design and Fundraising Ideas for Schools During Coronavirus

If your school has been considering a new playground, the Coronavirus lockdown might provide the time to plan your new outdoor space and even do a spot of online fundraising. With the majority of pupils and their parents at home looking for things to occupy their time, there’s a lot of opportunity for pupil and parent involvement in your project. Here are some ideas you might want to consider.

literacy and phonics

Designing your new school playground

There’s a lot to think about when designing a new playground for schools and nurseries. Some things, of course, need a specialist’s view, like whether groundwork needs to be carried out for drainage before new surfacing is laid. On the other hand, there are plenty of things that pupils and parents can get involved in, like choosing their favourite pieces of play apparatus and thinking of different kinds of zones that they might want to play in.

As most children are absent during the Coronavirus pandemic, you can set homework tasks that encourage pupil involvement in your playground redevelopment planning. One interesting project would be to get them to design their ideal playground. You could start by creating a downloadable outline of your playground, so they have an idea of the shape and size of the space and you could then ask them to visit our products page so they can find the outdoor play equipment that most appeals to them.

To make things more realistic and challenging, ask them to choose the types of zone they want to include, such as a nature area, climbing zone, a place for sport and PE, a dining and seating area, space for roleplay and creative fun, a sensory zone, etc. and then ask them to select equipment for each zone.

Once this has been done, the pupils can then create their design in colour, label the zones and write a list of the equipment they want to go in it. They can then email the project to their teacher. If you want to give even more challenge, ask the pupils to create a 3D design and send in a photo. To raise the profile of the project, you can even make it into a competition and give prizes for the best designs.

The benefit of this is that it gives school leaders a clear idea of how pupils of different ages, abilities and interests want to use the outdoor space. This helps you create an inclusive playground with a range of zones that appeal to all children. It also ensures that you spend your budget effectively, purchasing apparatus that you know will engage pupils and be well used.

It is not just pupils who you can get on board, either. With many parents forced to stay at home, they’ll have more time to answer questionnaires about what they want to see in the school playground. You could also set up an online playground working group, with parents and teachers conducting discussions over video chat.

New playground fundraising

Just because schools are closed for most pupils doesn’t mean fundraising activities for your new playground have to cease. Since the Corona outbreak began, millions of people are keeping in touch with friends and loved ones using video chat apps like Skype and Zoom. Social media is full of examples of how these are being creatively used. It is possible, for example, for your school to hold an online talent competition or even a school band performance where the various musicians each play from home. For fundraising purposes, you can ask parents to contribute via platforms like ParentPay or even set up a GoFundMe account.

Aside from using video and live streaming, there are other ways to raise money during the lockdown. You could, for example, ask the parent-teacher association to host a ‘buy now, receive later’ bun sale. Alternatively, you could hold a bric-a-brac auction where parents pledge to pay for items once things return to normal.

Finally, with your pupils having quite a bit more free time, there is a lot of opportunity to undertake sponsored activities, with people paying their sponsorship online. Of course, with pupils’ movement being restricted, they’ll need to come up with some inventive ideas about what they can do – but that just adds to the fun and challenge of it.

Conclusion

Though Coronavirus is causing major disruption, schools looking to redevelop their playgrounds have the potential to bring something positive from the experience. Undertaking design and fundraising during the lockdown can unite the school community to achieve something that will, once the pandemic is over, benefit everyone. Hopefully, the ideas given here will be useful.

If you are considering a new playground, visit our Free Playground Design Service page. For design inspiration, make sure you check out the video while you’re there.

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Sport Premium Survey – How Double Funding Has Affected Schools

In July, the Department for Education released the findings of a major survey looking at the impact of the Primary PE and Sport Premium. Over 3,000 schools took part in the survey which sought to discover how the premium has been used and what its effects have been since the amount was doubled in 2017. In this post, we’ll look at some of the main findings of the survey.

Who decides how the premium is spent?

The general response is that the decisions on how to spend the sport premium are shared by a number of stakeholders. While the headteacher, unsurprisingly, is involved in 78% of decisions, the majority of schools also involve senior leaders (58%) and other teachers (51%). School governors (41%) also play a significant role. Pupils and business managers each take part in 33% of schools whereas parents are only involved in 6% of decisions.

Most useful sources of advice

Schools were asked where they got advice on how to best use their premium and were then asked to rank the top three sources. Those considered as giving the most useful guidance were local PE and sports networks (58%), other primary schools (40%), coaches and sports companies (29%). The least useful were governors (3%), Sport England (9%), local authorities (10%) and the Association for PE (10%). Other frequently used sources included local secondaries, the Youth Sport Trust, the County Sport Partnership and DfE guidance.

Limited increase in curriculum time

The impact of the doubling of the sport premium has had a minimal impact on how much curriculum time is devoted to PE in primary schools. In almost two-thirds of schools, there has been no increase whatsoever across either Key Stage 1 or 2. Only 8% of schools have added an extra hour or more of PE to the timetable and just over a fifth of schools (23% in KS1 and 22% in KS2) have increased time by up to half an hour.

How money is spent on the PE curriculum

The spending of the extra sport premium funding on curricular PE generally falls into three categories. Around a quarter of schools use it on introducing new PE activities, another quarter use it to enhance the quality of existing provision (e.g., more teachers, extended sessions and teaching deeper skills), while the remaining schools have done a mixture of both.

Interestingly, those schools with the highest proportion of FSM students were more likely to introduce new PE activities while larger primaries were more inclined to improve the quality of provision.

Extracurricular spending

The use of the sport premium for extracurricular activities differed significantly to how it was spent on curriculum PE. Here, 33% of schools had used it specifically to introduced new types of sports activity with 54% using it for a mix of new and existing activities. Surprisingly, only 9% have focused on enhancing the quality of the extracurricular sporting activities since 2016/17.

Equipment top of the shopping list

The survey also asked schools to submit details of the specific things that they did with the funding. Top of the list was investment in new equipment, something 92% of schools used part of their funding for. This was followed by training existing staff (88%), increasing extracurricular sport (83%) and increasing physical activity across the school day (75%). Other popular areas of spending included increasing involvement with sport, transport to fixtures and employing sports coaches.

Perceived impact

Respondents to the survey were asked to give their views on how the doubling of the sports premium had impacted their school. Over half of all respondents believed that the profile of sport and PE had significantly improved while the percentage of pupils doing 30 minutes of physical activity per day had increased a lot in 42% of schools and a little in a further 40%. Similar increases were seen in the level of competitive sport being offered to pupils.

Most respondents thought all children benefitted from increased physical exercise, be that in curriculum PE (66% of respondents), extracurricular sport (73%) or sports competitions (63%). The children seen to have benefitted most through increased participation were children with SEND (42% of respondents) and FSM/PP students (41%). There was no difference between boys and girls.

Key priorities for future spending

Health and wellbeing are clearly the most important priorities for schools when it comes to investing the sport premium in the future. By far the most popular responses (both 50%) were finding better ways to engage the least active children and to reduce obesity and promote active lifestyles.

Other important priorities were upskilling staff, using PE to improve whole school development and providing more extracurricular and competitive sports. Although increasing activity levels is the top priority, by contrast, only 13% of schools wanted to use the premium to extend curricular PE time.

Conclusion

The Primary PE and Sport Premium survey has produced some interesting results about how the new double funding has been used and its impact. Overall, it seems to have brought a general improvement in curricular and extracurricular provision though this is limited and inconsistent. Hopefully, the results of the survey can assist other schools to use their sport premium more effectively.

If you are looking for better ways to invest your funding, take a look at our Sport Premium page.

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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?

Conclusion

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.

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