Playground Climbing Equipment: Why Schools Are Raising the Bar

Across the country, pupils in thousands of schools are reaping the benefits of playground climbing equipment. In this post, we’ll look at why they have become so popular and how they are helping both pupils and their schools.

1. Climbing improves physical health

One of the chief benefits of installing climbing equipment is that playing on it can make children healthier. Climbing, swinging and jumping are all activities which demand children to physically exert themselves. This form of exercise helps them burn off the calories, increase muscular strength and improve fitness, including that of the heart.

Research from the Liverpool John Moors University has shown that installing climbing apparatus in a playground increases the amount of time pupils take part in moderate to vigorous activity by around 30 minutes each week, with over 70% of children improving their health and fitness as a result.

2. Helps with child mental health

The mental health of children has become a major concern over recent years. According to The Guardian, 50,000 children and young people are referred for treatment by their GPs every month. Whether this is attributable to modern lifestyles or the increasing pressure put on pupils to achieve in schools, one thing is for certain: getting active can be very beneficial.

Taking part in physical activities such as climbing has been proved to increase endorphins and reduce stress, which is why practitioners recommend it for children with anxiety and depression. Indeed, those who regularly take part in vigorous physical activity have a lower chance of developing a mental health problem.

3. Climbing to learn

early years physical climbing activity playground equipment

To be a good learner requires pupils to develop skills such as resilience, concentration and teamwork. Playing on climbing equipment, especially in peer groups, helps pupils to acquire and develop these skills naturally. Climbing equipment such as Trim Trail obstacle courses, for example, motivates pupils to participate in challenges that will hone these skills so that they can be transferred to the classroom and used in more academic pursuits.

Another benefit for schools is that physical exercise can have a positive effect on pupil behaviour. Studies have found that pupils who take part in active play are much more likely to stay on task during lessons and be better behaved.

4. Climbing for communication and social skills

In a playground setting, climbing equipment offers children a myriad of opportunities to play together, where they can set each other climbing challenges or participate in role play. All of this requires them to interact socially, developing skills in communication, turn taking and negotiation. They’ll learn to set and abide by rules, settle disputes, make new friends, resolve issues and give instructions. Doing this in the playground, where staff can monitor things from a comfortable distance provides a unique opportunity to develop these skills in a safe environment.

5. Forging personal independence

traditional trim trail equipment

For pupils to leave school prepared for life in the wider world, it is important that they develop personal independence. Encouraging this trait begins at primary school and can be significantly assisted through outdoor play, where adult supervision is at a minimum.

By installing climbing equipment such as our Freeflow climbing frames, you can put children in exciting situations where they will need the self-reliance to make independent decisions about which route to take, how to overcome obstacles and how to negotiate unfamiliar pathways.

6. Providing challenge and managing risk

‘Challenge’ has been an Ofsted buzzword for some years and inspectors often complain that they don’t see enough of it in schools. While setting a challenge is one thing, encouraging pupils to rise to it is another. Developing this characteristic can be helped with the use of climbing equipment where students can set themselves challenges in how to negotiate a route around the apparatus. This also involves a certain degree of managing risk, for example, can the route they choose across a traversing wall be completed without falling off? Of course, with safe playground flooring installed underneath, the risk is that of failure, not of injury.

Climbing equipment can help pupils to take on new challenges which might, previously, have been scary to them. This is ideal for improving self-confidence and giving children a much-needed sense of achievement.


Climbing equipment provides many benefits for children. Playing on it helps pupils to be happier and healthier, have better social and learning skills, increased independence and a more positive approach to challenge and risk.

To give your pupils more opportunity for active outdoor play, take a look at our wide range of school playground climbing equipment.


Does Your Playground Meet DfES Expectations?

Although it was published back in 2006, the DfES publication ‘Schools for the future: designing school groundsstill stands as the definitive guide for creating modern playgrounds. The intention of the DfES, then and now, is for schools to increase opportunities for safe, challenging and collaborative play and the aim of the guide is to provide best practice in doing so. In this post, we’ll look at the DfES expectations for school playgrounds and give some ideas for the types of equipment that can help you meet them.

The theory behind the DfES strategy

At the time of publication and, perhaps, even more so today, children have few opportunities to participate in play that is safe, challenging and collaborative. The DfES’ concern is that this can lead to physical and mental health problems as well as social and behavioural issues. The belief is that, by improving playgrounds, schools can raise achievement and self-esteem, improve health and behaviour, and help children develop a wider range of important skills.

Play is crucial to pupils’ learning and development. It enables children to discover things about themselves, others and the world around them. According to the DfES guide, a well-designed school playground should give children the opportunity ‘to learn through experimenting, taking risks, undertaking challenges and finding out where their limits lie.’

The varied playground landscape

One of the primary elements of best practice design called for by the DfES is for schools to create playgrounds with a varied landscape. They should be safe, comfortable, and welcoming places where inventive boundaries are used to create a range of inspiring activity zones that cater for the needs of different pupils.

One of these zones should be a green nature and garden area where plants can be grown and where pupils can even get involved in the gardening process, perhaps by using the many planters which are currently available. Another key zone is the outdoor classroom, which should be a place for active learning as well as for sitting and writing. With a wide range of curriculum based playground equipment available, it’s easier than ever to meet this design expectation.

Places for challenge and risk

Challenge and managed risk are critical for child development, especially in early years. And while the DfES acknowledges the importance of safeguarding and the need for risk assessment, the guide states that this shouldn’t stop pupils ‘experiencing adventurous and creative play.’

Luckily, there is a lot of equipment for schools seeking to create adventure zones where children can challenge and manage risk safely. These include Trim Trails, where you can build your own obstacle course with balance beams, dip bars, stepping poles, clamber under and over obstacles, leap frog posts, jungle bars, wobbly bridges, log climbers and a wide range of other pieces.

Other excellent challenge and risk equipment includes the modular Free Flow climbing system. While this has similar challenges to the Trim Trails, its design means all the different elements are combined into a single piece of apparatus. In addition, there are imaginatively challenging rope based Tangled products and a range of fun play towers and climbing walls.

The guide goes on to mention the usefulness of ‘play equipment that is versatile and can be adapted’. One of the best systems for this is the Interchangeable Trim Trails. With easy to use interchangeable components, schools can modify the course of the trail as often as they wish, increasing or decreasing the challenge for each item of equipment.

Places for physical activity

While climbing and jumping are great physical activities, the DfES also emphasises the need for schools to have large areas where children can run around. Though this can be achieved with an empty schoolyard, these places are not going to motivate children to use them. Often the best and most affordable solution is to install playground markings.

Playground markings come in a huge range of varieties and can transform a bland and uninspiring piece of asphalt into something dramatically different. You can create sports pitches, such as football, netball and rounders, and install traditional playground games like hopscotch together with more modern games. There are also lots of training markings and even curriculum based markings you can choose.

Other expected design elements

Aside from the zones mentioned above, the other areas that the DfES expects a good playground to provide include quiet spaces, away from others, where children can chat with friends while still being supervised; enclosed secret spaces for hiding, such as woodland huts and play huts; zones for imaginative play, like making mud pies and playing with water; and places where children can gather together, such as an octagonal shelter.

Summing Up

Schools for the future: designing school grounds’ still stands as the DfES guide to creating a modern school playground. Hopefully, this post will have explained what the features of an ideal DfES playground are and shown you the kinds of products and equipment you can use when creating the various zones.

If you need assistance with the design of your playground, our free playground design service can help you make the best choices for your school. Alternatively, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45, we’ll be happy to help.


Top 5 Trends in School Playground Design

As specialists in playground equipment, we’ve seen a lot of changes in how playgrounds are designed over the years. With the development of new and exciting products and the implementation of government-directed initiatives, trends in playground design have shifted towards equipment which encourages physical activity, creativity, social inclusion and learning. These include trim trails, climbing tower systems, innovative surfacing and playground markings, and outdoor classrooms. Here, we’ll show you the top playground design trends currently being used today.

1. Trim Trails

Trim Trails are a very popular choice for schools as they provide pupils with an exciting obstacle course to navigate their way around. Not only are they endless fun to play on, they also encourage participation in physical activity. If children want to conquer the course, they’ll need to get active and master some new skills.

What’s great about a Trim Trails course is that schools are able to create their own design by mixing and matching the most appropriate elements for the needs of their pupils. It also means you can work to a set budget, too. There are three sets of Trim Trails: simplified, intermediate and advanced, each providing a different level of challenge so that you can cater for everyone from EYFS upwards.

The various elements you can choose from include log climbers, wobbly bridges, balance bars, climbing nets, chin-up and dip bars, striding posts, clamber under and over challenges, swinging logs and jungle bars. If you want to keep the challenge fresh, our interchangeable Trim Trails have interchangeable components which enable you to easily modify the course so that there is always something different for the children to do.

2. Modular climbing tower systems

Modular climbing systems are a regular site in primary playgrounds. Like Trim Trails, they are designed to inspire physical activity and improve strength, stamina and coordination. Being modular, it means you can design your own system and add to it later on if you need to budget for it over several academic years.

At ESP Play, we called our modular climbing system Freeflow because, being built on a grid structure, it has no defined start and end. This means children can get on at any point they like and are free to move around in any way that takes their fancy. There are a variety of exciting modules you can add to your design, these include traverse walls and nets, rope crossings, tyre bridges and crazy trails.

Experience has shown us that modular climbing tower systems have the most impact when the pupils are involved in the design process. This gives a great opportunity for the school council to get involved. It also helps generate fundraising ideas.

3. Outdoor classrooms

Over the last few years, one of the biggest trends we’ve seen is the development of outdoor learning environments. With the move towards active learning and lack of space being a problem in schools, outdoor learning provides lots of benefits, including getting the children out of stuffy classrooms and into the fresh air.

Today, there are all kinds of curriculum-based outdoor classroom resources available to install in your playground. Many of these are interchangeable, subject-specific panels, suitable for everyone from EYFS to KS4, which can be attached and removed from upright posts whenever they are needed. They can show learning objectives and instructions, be written and drawn on and be used to measure, calculate, take notes and more. ESP panels incorporate curriculum-friendly tools such as abacuses, coordinate grids and weather measurement instruments and cater for a wide range of subject areas, such as art and design, design and technology, English, geography, history, maths, MFL, music, PE and science.

There are also more specialised pieces of equipment, such as outdoor musical instruments, tangram tables, discovery planters, magnetic boards and much more.

4. Wetpour surfacing and playground markings

Wetpour surfacing, made from recycled rubber, has become the surfacing of choice for many schools because it absorbs the impact of a fall. Not only does this make it the ideal surfacing for those schools looking to install climbing equipment, it also prevents many of the injuries children get when playing on traditional asphalt playgrounds. Available in a range of colours, it’s also a great way to make your drab playground more welcoming.

What has made wetpour surfacing even more attractive to so many schools, is that it combines perfectly with playground markings. Together, they enable schools to create safe and affordable sports pitches, multi-skills zones and fun and games areas. There are even curriculum inspired markings such as compass hopscotch and phonetic spots.

5. Seated shelters

No child likes being sent out to play when the weather isn’t great and it can make for a miserable experience. Aside from keeping children indoors and all the problems this creates, a more suitable solution and one that many schools are turning to, is to provide outdoor shelters.

One of the most popular choices is the octagonal shelter with solid sides, decking and seating. While still providing exposure to natural daylight and fresh air, it keeps children dry and gives some protection from the cold and wind. These shelters ensure pupils have a place to sit, chat and move about during inclement weather and are also useful for holding outdoor lessons. Other options include shaded pergolas, pitched-roofed shelters, sail shade shelters and, for younger children, play huts.


The landscape of the school playground has changed dramatically over the last few years with a greater emphasis on making them become fun places that can inspire learning, increase social interaction and encourage healthier lifestyles. Hopefully, the trends we’ve shown here will inspire your next playground upgrade.


Winter is Coming – How to Make your Playground Winter Friendly

The big disadvantage of having long summer holidays is that much of the school year covers autumn and winter when its wet, windy and cold. When it comes to break times and lunchtimes, bad weather can bring misery to staff and students. However, while we cannot control the seasons, there are things that schools can do make their playgrounds winter friendly. Here we’ll look at the issues and offer some useful solutions.

The problem with winter

From October to March, lunch and break times can be a problem for schools. If its chilly, children are often turfed out into the playground where they huddle like penguins, seeking shelter from the cold wind. When it's raining, the newly seeded grass gets turned into a quagmire and the whole school gets covered in a layer of soil and dust. Then the miserably damp children come back in, steaming up the windows and complaining about being wet. Perhaps worst of all are the times when outdoor play is cancelled and both the children and the teachers are trapped in their classrooms. On days like these, the kids are hyper, behaviour is poor and even the staff get irritable. When this happens, teaching and learning is a struggle.

There are other disadvantages, too. Children do not get the benefit of exercise when they are hunched over from the cold; and when they get kept in, they miss out on the natural daylight they can get exposed to and the vitamin D it produces. All this can have a negative effect on their physical and mental wellbeing.

Making playgrounds more winter friendly

While there is no way to fully protect your playground from the elements, there are quite a few things you can do which will make it a better place for your students and increase the number of days that you can let them out to play.

Provide them with shelter

Providing pupils with protection from the rain and the worst of the wind can help reduce the number of days you need to keep them indoors and help make them more comfortable while they are outside.

You are not going to need shelter for every child as there are always going to be those who’ll be happy playing out regardless of whether it’s a heatwave or a force nine gale. However, for those who spend their winter breaktimes wandering along corridors, hiding in doorways or loitering by the toilets, a covered shelter can be a game changer. A great example is our octagonal shelter with solid sides, decking and seating. While it still gives exposure to the fresh air, it keeps the rain off and provides some protection from the cold and wind while giving children somewhere to sit, chat and even move about.

Other alternatives include shaded pergolas with seating and planters, pitched-roofed shelters, sail shade shelters and play huts.

Generate warmth

The simplest way to stop pupils getting cold outside is to get them moving. Inspiring children to participate in physical activity during the coldest days will help them build up body heat and keep warm. The more physical they are, the warmer they’ll become.

There are many activities that can be used to do this, but perhaps the best are sports and games. If your playground is lacking inspiration, then an affordable and quick solution can be to install a range of playground markings. Sports markings for football, netball and basketball, for example, are great ways to get large groups of children running around and keeping warm. You can complement these with a selection of fun and games markings that small groups can use to play together. With everything from roadway markings to hopscotch, there are lots of ideas to choose from. Of course, if you have a bigger budget available, you can provide a much wider selection of activities using trim trail obstacle courses, climbing frames, play towers and climbing walls.

The other big advantage besides keeping the children warm when outside, is that you are encouraging them to remain active at a time of year when they perhaps get the least chance to do so.

Keeping things clean

Wet weather invariably means mud and dirt getting everywhere. Children’s uniforms get caked in it and those highly polished school corridors get covered with a layer of dull, brownish silt by the end of the day. And as everyone who works in a school knows, it’s silt that loves to smear itself over clothing: cross your legs, sit on the floor, drop your coat – you get covered in it.

The main cause of mud coming into school is wet soil that sticks to the soles of shoes – particularly those with grip marks where the soil doesn’t get wiped off.

The ideal solution to prevent soil coming into schools is to replace your grassed playing areas with artificial grass. Doing this has several benefits: surfaces don’t get muddy, so you can use them all year round and children don’t bring the mud into school. Nor do they get covered in it if they slip. There’s no need to have the grass regularly mowed and reseeded either.

If your budget doesn’t extend to artificial grass, or you just prefer real grass, then another alternative would be to use grass matting, which is a safe and durable way to protect grass from erosion due to heavy use and which prevents contact with the actual soil underneath.


If you are looking for ways to make your playground more winter friendly for your pupils, hopefully, the suggestions given here can help. With shelters to protect them from the elements, a selection of playground markings or activity equipment to get them warmed up and cleaner surfaces to play on, you’ll be able to make break and lunchtimes more fun and increase the number of days your pupils get the chance to play outside.


5 Sustainable Ways to Invest Your School Sport Premium

The government’s commitment to fund the School PE and Sport Premium only lasts until 2020 and unless this is extended, schools have only two more years to benefit from the additional income this generates. With this in mind, it’s more important than ever to spend the funding in a way that has long-term benefits. In this post, we’ll look at five ways you can invest your School Sport Premium for the future.  

What is the School Sport Premium?

The School PE and Sport Premium is an initiative which delivers ring-fenced funding to English primary schools to help them improve PE and sport provision. Schools with over 17 pupils receive an £8,000 lump sum plus an additional £5 per pupil, while those with fewer than 17 get £500 per pupil.

This is a generous figure for cash-strapped schools and, used wisely, can make a huge difference. There are, however, conditions which need to be met: the money has to be spent on additional and sustainable improvements to PE and sports provision, it has to benefit all pupils and encourage them to lead more active and healthy lifestyles.

Investing for sustained improvement

Using the funding in a way which meets the conditions for which it is given can be a challenge. To achieve ‘sustained improvement’ means spending it on something that will have an impact over the long term. Perhaps the best examples of things which can achieve this are training staff so they can teach additional sports or skills in the future, or by purchasing equipment that can be used for many years and which encourages more children to participate. With this in mind, here are five suggestions to consider.

An overview of Sports Premium Funding

Set to run until 2020, the Primary PE and Sports Premium is a £150 million per annum initiative designed to improve the provision of PE and sport in schools throughout England. During the initiative, any school with more than 17 pupils aged five to eleven receives £8,000 a year plus £5 per pupil. Those with fewer than 17 on roll, receive £500 per pupil.

Requirements of Sports Premium Funding

The key stipulation of the initiative is that funding must be spent on additional and sustainable improvements to the provision of PE and sport and that these must be for the benefit of all pupils to encourage them to lead healthy, active lifestyles.

In other words, the money a school receives has to add to or improve PE and sports provision and do so in a way that benefits all pupils over the long term.

To ensure that the funding is spent as instructed, schools may be asked to provide evidence to inspectors that shows the impact of the Sports Premium on PE and sports provision and how this has improved pupil health and activity levels.

How can you spend your Sports Premium Funding?

There are quite a few ways you can use the funds, here are some of the main ones:

  • purchase equipment that extends provision or encourages activity
  • introduce new sporting or physical activities to encourage wider pupil participation
  • train existing teachers to deliver new sports or improve existing skills
  • hire specialist coaches to work alongside teaching staff
  • run extracurricular clubs and activities for the least active children
  • host sporting competitions, including interschool events

1. Install a Daily Mile Track

Daily Mile Tracks - School Sports Premium

The Daily Mile Challenge is a new project that aims to tackle inactivity and obesity by getting all pupils to complete a daily, one-mile circuit at school. Unlike cross country, this is more of a social activity, where children can run, jog or walk at their own pace with their friends. Taking around 15 minutes out of the school day, it has become increasingly popular with over 3000 UK schools taking part. It has also been taken up in many other countries.

Investing your School Sport Premium in a Daily Mile track can bring sustainable improvements in provision for all pupils, including the least active. Taking part can help the pupils improve their physical and mental health and their social and emotional wellbeing. Regular exercise can also help with behaviour, concentration and even attainment.

2. Kit out your playground with outdoor sports equipment

Primary schools often have little in the way of PE resources, one of the main reasons being a lack of storage space. One way to get around this is to provide permanently erected, outdoor sports equipment in the playground.

Outdoor equipment doesn’t need storage space and it can be used for a variety of purposes: PE lessons, extracurricular sporting activities and for active play during lunch and break times. In this sense, its impact is sustained in terms of how it is used throughout the school day and over the years that it remains fit for use.

Typical examples of sports equipment include basketball and netball hoops, goals (with either nets or recesses), freestanding ball catchers and ball walls for practising football, tennis and cricket. If you are short of space, you can even install multi-sports equipment, such as our combined football - hoop units which are ideal for football, hockey, netball and basketball.

3. Get some proper sports surfacing

Primary schools often have little in the way of PE resources, one of the main reasons being a lack of storage space. One way to get around this is to provide permanently erected, outdoor sports equipment in the playground.

Outdoor equipment doesn’t need storage space and it can be used for a variety of purposes: PE lessons, extracurricular sporting activities and for active play during lunch and break times. In this sense, its impact is sustained in terms of how it is used throughout the school day and over the years that it remains fit for use.

Typical examples of sports equipment include basketball and netball hoops, goals (with either nets or recesses), freestanding ball catchers and ball walls for practising football, tennis and cricket. If you are short of space, you can even install multi-sports equipment, such as our combined football - hoop units which are ideal for football, hockey, netball and basketball.

4. Mark out your existing playground for more sports

Playground markings offer a practical and affordable way to extend the number of sports and activities you provide. There is a wide range of sports playground markings available, including football, futsal (5-a-side football), tennis, netball, rounders, cricket and basketball.

These markings can be installed on most hard surfaces, provided they are in reasonable condition, enabling your school playground to double up as an outdoor sports facility while providing pupils with new pitches to play on during their free time.

For schools with small playgrounds, an ideal solution is to install multicourt markings. A multicourt is a single space over which there are markings for futsal, netball and basketball.

5. Install a multi-skill zone

A multi-skills zone meets all the criteria that the School Sports Premium stipulates. With long lasting markings and all year availability, they can be used during lessons, for extra-curricular activities or for playground games.

Their versatility enables more pupils to benefit from them, giving increased opportunity to develop key physical skills such as agility, balance, coordination, stability and physical awareness and sporting skills such as footwork, jumping, throwing and ball skills.

There is a diverse selection of multi-skills markings to choose from, enabling schools to create zones tailored for their specific needs. These include the ‘Famous Five’ multi-skills markings (ideal for working with groups on a range of different skills), a multi-skills circle, agility ladder and trainer trail. There are many more to choose from.


The School Sports Premium is an opportunity to invest in the long-term provision of sports and PE in your school. The ideas we have provided here enable schools to deliver new and additional provision that we think will offer sustainable improvements in your school and which can benefit all pupils, including the least active.

For more information, take a look at our School Sport Premium page or call us on 01282 43 44 45.