Healthy Schools Initiatives that Actually Work

Sedentary lifestyles and processed foods are having a huge impact on the nation’s health. 25% of UK children are overweight by the time they start reception and 10% are obese. By the time they leave for secondary school, the number of obese children doubles. This can lead to a lifetime of poor
eating and exercise habits that ultimately have a devastating effect on their health and life expectancy whilst also placing a huge burden on the NHS and social care. In addition, those who do not lead healthy lifestyles are likely to pass on their habits to their own children.

Tackling the UK’s poor eating and exercise habits has been an issue for some time and schools have
been given the challenge of trying to change that. Over the years there has been a succession of
initiatives from changing school menus, banning sweets, crisps and sugary drinks, the Healthy Active
Schools System, the Healthy Schools Awards and more. Schools now run countless programmes
including visiting experts, interactive displays, health orientated PSCHE lessons, cooking lessons for
parents and sporty afterschool activities.

However, according to a recent BBC report, ‘Anti-obesity programmes in schools don’t work’, many
of these initiatives are not having an impact. In a recent study by the University of Birmingham,
researchers set up a typical, school-based healthy lifestyle programme catering for 6 and 7-year- olds
in 26 local primary schools. 30 months later, their results showed that there had been “no significant
reductions in BMI and no improvements in energy expenditure, body fat measurements or activity
levels - compared with those not taking part.”

Why aren’t these initiatives working?

The simple answer is that teaching and doing are two different things. We can teach children and parents how to be healthy, give them opportunities to participate and point them in the direction where they can get exercise and healthy food, but this doesn’t change their habits. In this day and age, the majority of parents already know what’s needed to lead a healthy life. Unfortunately, their circumstances and lifestyle often get in the way.

With many families having two working parents, convenience is often top of the list when it comes to the weekly shopping. You can cook a frozen pizza and chips in the oven in 20 minutes and it can be hard not to when the kids demand tea as soon as you get home from work. Following on from this is price: the cost of the weekly shop has risen significantly while wages have remained static. Families are buying less expensive foods which are often higher in fats, sugars and additives.

And, of course, families live sedentary lifestyles. It's not just that children spend all their time on phones and gadgets: many parents don’t let their kids play out anymore. The last thing parents feel like doing after a busy day at work, making the tea, washing up, getting the uniforms ready and making packed lunches, is to take the family out for some exercise. They are tired, worn out and want nothing more than to put their feet up and watch a boxed set. The kids, meanwhile are left face-timing friends and watching their favourite YouTube stars.

It is little wonder, therefore, that healthy lifestyle initiatives geared simply towards educating are failing to have an impact.

What does work?

Helping children reduce weight is all about maths. If their calorie intake is less than the amount they expend, they’ll lose weight. If it’s more, they’ll put weight on. The best approach, therefore, is to tackle it from both ends. Firstly, by reducing the amount of unhealthy, high calorie, food being consumed, such as fat and sugar, you can reduce the daily calorie intake. This can be achieved through a healthy school menu and stricter rules about packed lunches and snacks.

Secondly, you can increase the number of calories being used by building exercise into the school day. Not only will this help reduce weight in overweight children, it will have a positive impact on all pupils’ physical and mental health and can even improve behaviour and attainment. 

How to introduce physical activity in school

One of the most effective ways to increase physical activity is to give pupils the opportunity to be active whilst they play. Rather than sending children out into a boring old playground with nothing to do, many schools are now investing in outdoor playground equipment that encourages physical play. Indeed, research has shown that using ESP equipment has led to a 19% increase in physical activity.

Creating fun obstacle courses such as a Trim Trail, or installing Free Flow climbing equipment is a great way to encourage participation. You can also install a wide variety of playground markings which can be used for everything from hopscotch to team sports. For children who are more creative, there is a whole range of equipment that can be used for role-play, drama and dance activities.

Physical activity doesn’t just have to be reserved for PE and break times, either. With our wide selection of curriculum-based outdoor classroom equipment, you can now unleash your students from the desk and give them some active learning in the fresh air. At ESP Play, we have resources for every curriculum area, so, no matter what subject you are delivering, if the weather is fine, there’s no excuse to stay sedentary indoors.

Finally, you should consider signing up for The Daily Mile, a new initiative that gets every child in the school jogging (or even walking) at their own pace, for 1 mile every day. It takes just 15 minutes to do, needs no setting up and can be done in school uniform. It’s simple, easy and very effective.  


Whilst educating pupils and parents about healthy lifestyles is important, on its own, it is having little impact on improving physical health or reducing childhood obesity. The biggest impact a school can have, therefore, is to make physical activity a normal part of school life and that means active play, active lessons and increased time for initiatives such as The Daily Mile. This way, not only are you teaching about a healthy lifestyle, you are providing it too.


Best Child-Friendly Playground Climbing Equipment

Schools and private nurseries are installing climbing equipment in playgrounds all over the country, but which is the ideal solution for your playground? In this post, we’ll take a look at four exciting types of child-friendly climbing equipment, so you can see the range on offer and judge which is the best for the children in your care.

Trim Trails

Trim Trails are a brilliant way to create exciting obstacle courses in your playground and turn bored kids into eager participants. If you are looking for the ideal way to give your pupils fun things to do and inspire them to undertake physical challenges, then this is the ideal solution.

One of the best things about building a Trim Trails course is that you are able to design your own. This means you can choose the right pieces of equipment to match the needs of your pupils and the constraints of your space and budget. And there are lots of different Trim Trail elements you can choose from, there are climbing nets, balance bars, chin-up and dip bars, log climbers, jungle bars, striding posts, wobbly bridges, clamber under and over challenges, swinging logs and many other obstacles.

Trim Trail equipment is designed to encourage physical activity and to develop resilience and self-esteem. We have three sets of Trim Trails, simplified, intermediate and advanced, all of which cater for different ages or abilities and you can mix and match to cater for everyone from EYFS to secondary age.

Besides out traditional Trim Trails, we also have a range of interchangeable Trim Trails. These have easily interchangeable components that enable you to change elements of your course so that children can have a new challenge every day.

Freeflow Climbing System

The concept behind Freeflow is to create a playground where children design their own challenge. With input from the school council, schools can create a bespoke climbing experience, choosing from a range of modular post structures and interconnecting pieces.

Built on a grid structure, Freeflow is a piece of climbing equipment that has no defined start and end. Pupils can hop on wherever they choose and are free to move around the structure in a way they find most enjoyable – hence the name Freeflow.

Like the Trim Trails equipment, Free Flow is designed to encourage physical activity, stamina, strength and coordination and there are plenty of modules you can choose from to create your own structure: tyre bridges, traverse walls and nets, rope crossings, crazy trails and much more.

One of the advantages of Freeflow is that, even after it has been installed, you can continue to add new elements to it. So, if you are restricted by budget, you can add a new section each year. Check out the Freeflow designer kit to see the full range of modules.


Tangled is part of the ESP Play wooden playground equipment range and, as the name suggests, focuses on rope play. Inspired by spiders’ webs and ships rigging, Tangled is one of the most popular playground choices in schools across the country. 

Designed especially for younger pupils, this equipment comes in sizes suitable for children from EYFS all the way through to KS2. Ideal for climbing, balancing, swinging and mastering tricky manoeuvres, there are currently eight separate elements you can put together to create your ideal Tangled ensemble.

With enchanting designs and wonderful names, e.g. cobweb, tarantula, black widow and wolf, these pieces not only motive children to undertake physical activity but inspire creative roleplay too.  

Play Towers

If you are catering for younger children or only have limited outdoor space, our range of play towers might be just what you are looking for. We have a wide selection of towers to choose from and they provide lots of opportunities for children to have fun and take part in physical activity: tunnels, bridges, slides, sliding poles, ramps, rope nets and climbing walls.

Of course, young children love making up their own adventures and this selection of towers provide everything they need to inspire great roleplay. There are towers and turrets, flags, drawbridges and pitched roofed dens.


As you can see, there is a huge range of options you can choose from if you are looking to install high-quality climbing equipment in your playground. All the pieces mentioned here are designed to be safe for children, are sturdily constructed and built for constant heavy use. You also have flexibility in how you can mix and match individual components, enabling you to create a truly bespoke climbing structure that meets your exact needs.

For more information or for help with design, contact us on 01282 43 44 45. We’ll be glad to help.


Playground Equipment to Help Primary Schools Meet the National Curriculum for PE

The National Curriculum for PE covers an awful lot of ground during Key Stages 1 and 2. Schools need to teach running, jumping, throwing and catching; they have to let pupils compete in games and perform dances; and provide them with the opportunity to develop strength, coordination, and balance.

In this post, we’ll look at the range of skills listed above and show you specific items of outdoor play equipment that can be used to teach and develop those skills. In doing so, we hope to show you how this equipment can help you meet the National Curriculum for PE.


According to the National Curriculum, running is the ability to move at a speed faster than a walk, whilst never having both feet on the ground at the same time. While running usually comes naturally to children, your aim as a school is to develop their running skills: to build up stamina, endurance, speed and technique.

Perhaps the best way to develop these skills in the playground is to install sports markings for games such as football, netball and rounders that encourage children to run whilst having fun. Some multi-skills markings such as fast feet and ring step are also helpful for specific skills.


The National Curriculum defines jumping as pushing yourself off a surface, into the air, using the muscles in the legs and feet. Like running, it is a skill that comes naturally but needs developing in order to help children jump higher or further.

Some of the best pieces of equipment for doing this are those that involve excitement, such as the step and jump posts that are part of our Trim Trails or the ‘Jump the Gap’ elements of our Free Flow equipment. There are also hurdles playground markings you can use.

Throwing & Catching

Throwing and catching require pupils to develop a range of skills. They need to learn different techniques (e.g., one-hand and two-hand catching, overarm and underarm throwing) and be able to throw longer distances with more accuracy.

There are some great pieces of equipment designed to bring these skills along. For throwing accuracy, for example, we have target boards and target markings. We also have ball catcher trainers and a specially designed ball catcher that develops hand-eye coordination, footwork, balance and catching skills.

Competitive Games

A lot of competitive games are team games and sports playground markings provide ample opportunity for children to participate in these. With markings available for football, futsal (5-aside), netball, basketball, rounders and cricket, there is a wide range of competitive sports to choose from. And if you're short of space, you can even get multi-court markings which enable several sports to be played in the same space.

For individual competitive games, there are tennis markings plus a wide range of activity based equipment, such as Trim Trails obstacle courses or climbing walls where children can take part in time trials against each other or compete by endurance.


Although the National Curriculum uses the term ‘dance’, it defines it as a variety of fundamental movements usually undergone in a regularly repeated pattern. To perform a dance, therefore, requires skills in coordination and sequencing as well as an ability to understand rhythm.

Equipment that can be used to help teach these skills include movement and dance motif boards and various playground markings including our and multi-step and grid markings. If you’re planning to make the performance a key part of your curriculum, there is also a range of outdoor stages which can be used to showcase the dances your pupils create.

Balance & Coordination

early years physical climbing activity playground equipment

Balance, the ability to remain upright and steady by evenly distributing weight, and coordination, using different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently, are two skills that go hand in hand.

There is a range of climbing equipment sets that are perfectly designed to help children develop these skills. Our Trim Trails, Free Flow, Tangled and Infinity Trails all provide challenging and fun ways for children to practice balancing, climbing and various other physical manoeuvres across a range of exciting obstacles.


To develop strength, children need to be given the opportunity to build their muscles through physically challenging exercise. Here again, climbing equipment offers a number of ways to achieve this. Climbing up ladders, ropes and rigging, using monkey bars, dip bars and chin-up bars, for example, are great ways to develop strength in core muscles, arms and legs. Unlike circuit training, however, these pieces of equipment are seen as fun by pupils and, like everything else mentioned in this post, can be used during breaktimes as well as during PE lessons. This means that skills can be practiced and honed even during free time.


If your school is struggling to provide the right equipment to meet the needs of the National Curriculum in PE, or if you are looking for new and exciting ways to deliver the subject, we hope the suggestions we have provided here will help you. If you need more ideas or want to discuss how you can use our equipment in your playground, contact us on 01282 43 44 45. We’ll be happy to help.


7 Surprising Ways Playground Equipment Can Benefit Your School

Thinking of upgrading your old, asphalt playground into something a little more convivial? If you are, there are plenty of advantages to be had from installing the right playground equipment. In this post, we’ll take a look at 7 surprising benefits that installing playground equipment can bring.

1. Get Fully Subscribed

One way to increase the number of parents who put their child’s name down for your school is to provide facilities that their children will love and which shows you have their best interests at heart. And young kids, especially, enjoy playing on playground equipment. So, whilst parents will look at your Ofsted reports and your ranking in the local league tables, creating a great outdoor play space can be a deal breaker when it comes to them making a final decision.

2. Improve Behaviour

One of the biggest causes of poor behaviour is boredom and pupils left to their own devices in an empty schoolyard quickly run out of things to do. This is where silly behaviour can begin and escalate into something more serious. And children who are bored during breaks often take their frustrations back into the classroom where they can cause disruption.

Installing a range of playground equipment, whether its sports markings, creative and messy play or climbing equipment, is an easy way to keep children engaged during lunch and breaktimes and improve overall behaviour.

3. Earn Money

One often overlooked benefit of installing playground equipment is that it can generate income for the school. You might be used to leasing out your classrooms for night classes or your hall for the local Zumba group, but you can do the same with a well-equipped playground. If you have sports markings and equipment, for example, you can hire it out to football or netball clubs. If you have a range of fun equipment, playgroups may want to use it during the summer holidays. You can even hire it out to parents for children’s parties at the weekends.

4. Raise Attainment

According to a study at Harvard Medical School, regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory and thinking skills. One of the benefits of outdoor play equipment is that it encourages children to take regular exercise, whether that’s a sporting activity, roleplay or challenging themselves on a trim trail. Daily participation in these activities, therefore, can have a direct effect on their ability to learn and their progress.

In addition, outdoor play helps children develop a range of essential learning skills, such as resilience, collaboration and concentration, all of which can be transferred to the classroom.

5. Improve Mental Health

While its no surprise that getting kids active can improve their physical health, what many people don’t realise is that it can have a very positive impact on mental health, too. According to Public Health England, 695,000 5 to 16 year olds have a clinically significant mental illness. That staggering number means virtually every school in the country will have children who are dealing a mental health issue.

Regular physical activity can have a positive impact on a range of mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety. By installing playground equipment that motivates these students to join in, you’ll be helping to increase their endorphin levels and reduce stress. Even if you only manage to get them into natural light, you’ll still be raising their vitamin D levels which can improve their mood.

6. Get Healthy School Status

One of the key requirements for gaining the Healthy School Status award is that pupils are provided with a range of opportunities to be physically active. With schools under so much pressure to perform academically, it can be difficult to commit any more than the minimum curriculum time to PE or other physical activity.

Providing stimulating outdoor equipment that encourages pupils to participate in physical activity ensures that non-curriculum time can be put to valuable use. Installing a range of different equipment that appeals to all pupils will show that you are being inclusive too. This can be a real asset when it comes to the Healthy School assessment.

7. Improve Inclusion

Not all children feel comfortable in noisy and busy school playgrounds and there are some that, for physical reasons, cannot participate in the usual activities that children get up to. For these children, free time can be an isolating and daunting experience.

With the right playground equipment, however, you can cater much better for these children’s needs. For example, it is possible to install play towers with wheelchair access or create quiet outside areas with stimulating sensory equipment that are shielded from the hustle and bustle. There is a whole range of SEN equipment available.


Most schools tend to see the obvious benefits of installing playground equipment, i.e., giving pupils something enjoyable to do during breaktimes and encouraging physical activity. However, as you can see from the points raised in this article, installing outdoor play equipment can bring many unexpected benefits to your school as well.


How to Design a School Playground – 5 Key Tips

A well-designed school playground can be a real asset. With the right layout and outdoor play equipment, it can offer a wide range of benefits in health, behaviour, inclusion and even attainment. It also means happier pupils. Getting your design right, however, can be difficult. So, to help, our design experts have put together these five key tips to help you design your perfect school playground.

1. Make it Inviting

If you are going to invest in school playground equipment, you want your pupils to take advantage of all the new things you’ll provide for them and the best way to do this is to make your playground an inviting place.

To do this, start by making sure you install your new equipment in a place that is easily accessible to all pupils. Keep it fairly near to the school building so children don’t have to walk far to get there and make sure there are adequate pathways to it; no one wants to traipse through a quagmire in order to play.

Being overprotective of your new playground design can also make it uninviting, so avoid barricading it behind wire mesh fencing. Making it look like a prison yard is not going to encourage kids to play.

2. Design A Place of Discovery

One of the best ways to design a playground is to layout your equipment so that it leads children from area to area in a voyage of discovery. For example, if you have a trim trail, make sure, when the pupils reach the end of it, there is another enticing piece of equipment waiting for them to play on.

Climbing towers can be great for discovery, too. Locating them in the centre of the playground means that when they climb to the top, they can see the all the other pieces of equipment spread out around them. You can add to this by putting a favourite piece of equipment facing the bottom of the slide.

If you have a quiet space that is sectioned off from the rest of the playground, divide it up into mini areas so children have to pass through secret gateways to get in. For example, your sand and water area may lead to a nature garden and from there to a sensory area.

3. Build in Elements of Risk

Managing risk is a life skill that all pupils need to learn and the school playground is the ideal place for them to do this in a safe and measured way. Risky play is also fun and can be a great way to boost self-confidence.

There are many pieces of outdoor play equipment that provide an element of risk. Balance beams, climbing walls, rope equipment and monkey bars, etc, provide pupils with exciting ways to challenge themselves and manage the risks they face. Of course, make sure all the equipment and playground surfacing is designed to keep your children as safe as possible.

4. Quiet Areas

All playgrounds should provide a quiet space for children. Some pupils won’t like noisy areas and will feel more comfortable and secure where it is less busy. Others will just want to take a break from playing on the bigger pieces of equipment.

If you already have a green space on your school grounds, then consider putting in some adequate seating or even some play huts and dens where small groups of friends can chat quietly together. If you haven’t a green space, you can create a nature zone with lots of planters, bird tables and bug houses. In warmer weather these are great places to take out paper and paints or to spread out some blankets and a box of books for children to read in the sunshine.

5. Use Zone To Cater For Different Groups

A well-designed playground will be inclusive and cater for the needs of all pupils. One of the best ways to achieve this is to divide it into clearly defined zones so that there is a range of different activities available for all.

Discussing the design with your pupils will help you understand what kinds of things they would like and this can be useful when deciding on the zones you want to include. Typically, you’ll find children wanting a sports area, a climbing or obstacle course area, an area for roleplay and creative play, a quiet/nature area and, for younger children, a water, mud and sand play area. Older children will also want an area where they just can ‘hang out’.

Another reason for creating zones is that if you design a playground around a single piece of premium equipment, you may find that this gets monopolised by the more dominant children and the rest get left out. By all means, install that equipment, but make sure there are plenty of other things, including areas that will attract the dominant kids too.  


Designing a school playground that works for all your pupils can be a challenge. It involves a great deal of collective input and with space and budget considerations, there may need to be some compromises before a final decision can be made. If you are considering installing a new playground at your school ESP Play offer a free playground design service which 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.