Council Playground Closures Put Spotlight on Schools

council playgrounds

There’s a seismic shift going on in the world of playgrounds. It’s not too long ago that school playgrounds were little more than large expanses of empty tarmac and that the public park was the place to find all the exciting equipment. Today, that situation is very much the reverse. While many schools have made considerable improvements to their playgrounds, cash strapped councils are having to close theirs down.

According to a recent article in the Guardian, a funding crisis in the play sector means many public playgrounds are in such a dilapidated state that councils are no longer in a position to reopen them. After years of austerity and the capping of council tax, councils have been forced to focus their spending on statutory responsibilities. As a result, play provision has disappeared off the list of priorities. Not only are improvements becoming fewer; many authorities are struggling just to pay for the necessary maintenance of existing playground equipment, without which it is unwise and potentially unsafe to keep them open.

The Association of Play Industries has found that over 340 playgrounds have been closed across England over the last few years and those still in use have seen their budgets cut by £13 million, year on year. In many cases, it is groups of parents who are seeking to make improvements, often having to resort to crowdfunding to pay for any repairs.

This is not, however, the only problem for parents and children looking for play areas. While the government has begun the process of mass home building across the country to deal with the housing shortage, families moving into these areas are finding few, if any, local playgrounds being developed at the same time. Despite a playground being an amenity that could improve the value for all the homes in these areas, developers stand to make more money using those spaces to build more houses. Many of those which have been built remain largely unused because the budgets were so small they hold no attraction for the children.

For those living in social housing, it’s a lottery as to whether there’s a good local playground. Some housing associations are willing to invest properly in providing high-quality playgrounds while others will merely contribute towards their upkeep and assist local groups with fundraising activities.

What does this mean for schools?

Regardless of the numerous learning benefits that a school playground provides children with, the benefits of play for their physical health and mental wellbeing are considerable. It is recommended that children take part in an hour of physical activity every day. They can get much of this from taking part in playground games or from playing on equipment like climbing frames. Doing so helps keep them aerobically fit, strengthens their core muscles, improves physical skills like balance and coordination and improves general health and fitness. It also helps combat obesity and its associated illnesses that are increasingly common among children of all ages and which can have life-long consequences.

Physical activity has also been shown to have a beneficial effect on mental wellbeing, as does any form of social play that children participate in. Indeed, following the lockdown, there are many concerns about how the lack of socialising has affected children’s mental health and behaviour. When children first went back to school in September, schools reported more children struggling to play together and saw an increase in altercations. Ofsted, meanwhile, noted a concerning decrease in physical fitness.

As a result, child development experts are calling for parents and schools to give children and teenagers more time for active, outdoor play and socialising – something which contradicts Gavin Williamson's desire to extend school hours and provide summer schools to help children catch up with classwork.

However, with public playgrounds being closed down and many of those remaining needing maintenance before they can open once again, the spotlight falls very much on schools. Compared to a generation ago, today, the best equipped and safest playgrounds that children have access to are often found in the schoolyard, not at the local park or residential estate.

Conclusion

In the short term, when it comes to helping children deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, school playgrounds will have an important role to play in providing the physical and social activities long-isolated pupils so desperately need. In the long-term, however, if the number of public playgrounds continues to decline, the schoolyard may be, for many children, the only place left to enjoy the treasures of a well-equipped playground.

For more details about our playground equipment, visit our Products page.

 

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5 Questions to Ask Before Upgrading a School Playground

Though upgrading a school playground brings many advantages, it is often a major project and presents both opportunities and challenges. Before you can put designs on the table, there are some important questions to be asked. Here, we look at the key questions you need to consider.

1. Where will we find the funding?

Depending on the size of the playground and the equipment you want to install, a playground upgrade can come with a hefty price tag. While there may be funding available from within the school budget, many schools need to source additional funds from grants and raise money through fundraising activities. This may mean asking the PTA to run events, getting the children and staff involved in sponsored activities and seeing if any philanthropically minded members of the school or local community (including local businesses) are willing to make donations.

Careful design of the playground can help keep costs to a minimum and at ESP Play we point you in the right direction of potential grants and give ideas and advice on fundraising.

2. Where to create the upgrade?

Getting the most benefit from a school playground doesn’t always mean that the upgrade has to be in exactly the same space as your existing outdoor area. There’s always the potential to extend the area, join formerly separate areas together, shift the space over a little or even move it to the other side of the building. Why does the school have a south-facing car park and a north-facing playground when the opposite would be the obvious choice? Why is the one area of natural beauty on the school site nowhere near where the children play? Asking questions like these can help you think outside the box and realise the true potential of the space you have available.

Of course, there are many other things to consider, such as access, safety, planning permission, the suitability of the ground, the type of landscaping you want and so forth.

3. Who is going to use the playground?

While the obvious answer to this is the pupils, schools need to think very carefully about the children’s needs when planning an upgrade. One key factor will be inclusion. A playground needs not just to be accessible to all, but to provide opportunities for all. There’s no point putting a wheelchair access pathway to the playground if a wheelchair user is left unable to play with their friends or make use of any equipment. This principle applies to children with all needs.

At the same time, schools need to look at how children of different ages and interests play. The design you create should provide them with the activities they want to do during their free time. For some, this will be just to have somewhere quiet to chill out and chat to their mates, for others it will be exciting equipment to climb on or sports markings to have a game of football or netball. Younger children may prefer to take part in messy play or have some whiteboards to draw on, etc.

Getting this right means getting to know your pupils and asking them what they want.

4. What does the school want the playground for?

Today’s school playgrounds are multi-functional and help the school in many different ways. From a multi-functional point of view, they are used for breaktime play, outdoor classrooms, PE, outdoor eating areas, interschool sports matches, school fetes and various other purposes. Questioning what you want the playground to be used for can help you create a design that brings this extra functionality. Consider how creating a picnic area, for example, could ease the pressure of lunchtimes in those schools whose canteens lack seating capacity. Or how an outdoor classroom could help enrich the curriculum while freeing up space within the school for other purposes. For secondary schools in particular, equipping the playground with a MUGA could make it far easier for PE departments who are often deprived of their halls during the exam season.

The type of equipment installed in a playground can also help schools in other ways. Apparatus that inspires children to be physically active, such as climbing frames and Trim Trails, can improve physical health and mental wellbeing, helping to reduce obesity and enabling children to cope better with depression or anxiety. Physical activity can also boost mental alertness in lessons and reduce disruptive behaviour, while social play helps improve relationships within the school and nature areas help improve mood and provide a safe, calm environment for children who need quieter spaces.

5. Who is going to install the playground?

This is a vital question, as your choice will affect the design and quality of the finished project. One thing you should consider is whether your playground installation contractor has experience working with schools. There are many differences between school and public playgrounds and a school specialist, like ESP, understands the specific needs that schools have. At the same time, you want a company that provides the full package, from start to finish; a team that will design the playground with you, supply all the equipment and materials you need, build and install the playground and then provide the regular maintenance needed to ensure its ongoing safety and good working order.  Working this way helps keeps cost down and makes it easier to manage the project, enabling it to get completed quicker and with a more satisfactory outcome.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many things to consider even before you start to design your playground upgrade. The questions here, obviously raise other questions themselves and answering these ensures that, at the end of the project, the playground you end up with ticks all the boxes.

For more information, visit our Inspiration page or if you want an informal chat, call us on 01282 43 44 45.

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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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