Play Strategy: Play Out of Hours!

A toolkit for the use of school grounds for playing out of teaching hours.

children water fighting

What is it designed to do?

This toolkit is designed to provide clear and concise information for school communities and their partners to assess the feasibility of making school grounds available for children’s play out of teaching hours.

It contains specific pieces of information intended to help understand and address particular issues of concern. It provides practical, step-by-step tools and templates for undertaking work linked to the opening of school grounds for playing out of teaching hours.

What policy or legislation supports this toolkit?

Children’s Rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out 54 articles that define how children and young people should be treated and how governments should monitor the UNCRC. The UK Government have signed up to the convention. There are three articles in particular that are useful to consider when providing for children’s play spaces:

Article 31: The right to leisure, play and culture
Children have the right to relax and play and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities. The United Nations has published a General Comment on Article 31. This is an official statement that elaborates on the meaning of an aspect of the UNCRC that requires further interpretation or emphasis. The aim of the General Comment is to raise the importance of an Article and increase accountability among countries that have signed up to the Convention.

Article 12: Respect for the views of the child
When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account.

Article 15: Freedom of association
Children have the right to meet together.

Play Strategy for Scotland (2013)
The Scottish Government’s vision for children and young people is clear: for Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up.
The Policy states that:
“Play encompasses children’s behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. It is performed for no external goal or reward, and is a fundamental and integral part of healthy development – not only for individual children, but also for the society in which they live.”
This recognition of the importance of play for society and communities underpins the content of this guide.

Health and Safety

Risk management is a key part of managing play spaces.This toolkit provides practical advice on conducting risk-benefit assessments, and developing policies and procedures as part of sensible risk management practices. Children’s play necessarily involves opportunities to experience risk and challenge. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has supported this viewpoint by issuing a joint high-level statement with the Play Safety Forum (PSF) to promote a balanced approach to managing risk in children’s play.i
The high-level statement – Children’s Play and Leisure: promoting a balanced approach makes clear that:

  • Play is important for children’s wellbeing and development
  • When planning and providing play opportunities, the goal is not to eliminate risk, but to weigh up the risks and benefits
  • Those providing play opportunities should focus on controlling the real risks, while securing or increasing the benefits – not on the paperwork
  • Accidents and mistakes happen during play – but fear of litigation and prosecution has been blown out of proportion.


In August 2012 the Scottish Children and Young People’s Commissioner commissioned Children and Young People’s Participation in Scotland: Frameworks, standards and principles for practice report from Stirling University.
This report was then developed into the 7 Golden Rules for Participation by Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People through consultation with children and young people from across Scotland. This set of principles can help anyone working with – and for – children and young people. Research into participation has also been used to help make the rules as good as they can be.
The Golden Rules can remind adults what children and young people want from participation. They can also help children and young people to think about how adults can support them to participate. The rules are:

  • Golden Rule 1: Understand my rights
  • Golden Rule 2: A chance to be involved
  • Golden Rule 3: Remember, it’s my choice
  • Golden Rule 4: Value me
  • Golden Rule 5: Support me
  • Golden Rule 6: Work together
  • Golden Rule 7: Keep in touch

National Initiatives
Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland (2014 revision) aims to tackle long term drivers of poverty and income inequality through early intervention and prevention. Play supports the reduction of child inequality and delivers outcomes for vulnerable children. This policy specifically identifies the provision of local solutions that include safe spaces and facilities for play and recreation.

Health and Wellbeing in Curriculum for Excellence
The Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007 builds on the work of health promoting schools and Hungry for Success. It places health promotion at the heart of a school’s activities and details a number of duties on local authorities such as to promote school meals and consider sustainable development guidance when providing food and drink. In 2010 Curriculum for Excellence was introduced. One of the 8 main curriculum areas is health and wellbeing where a number of experiences and outcomes are described including ‘food and health’. Taken together with the Health Promotion guidance, the health and wellbeing experiences and outcomes outline the Government’s expectations upon individuals, schools and local authorities for promoting the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
Within the Act, the health promotion guidance for local authorities and schools is clear and under 3.6 Environment, resources and facilities it states that “The whole school environment should be conducive to health promotion.
Schools with health promoting environments provide opportunities and space for physical activity, play, eating, socialising and privacy. They make these facilities available both during and outwith normal school hours and work with local community groups to explore ways of making their provision, including drop-in, available to the wider community. In a health promoting school, members of the school community demonstrate a commitment to enhancing the quality of the immediate and wider environment. Providing physical activity opportunities through wider school and community activity allows young people to be physically active in less formal settings and gives them more choice and influence on the
type of activities in which they participate.”

Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill 2014 will assist communities to determine their own futures. Communities with play at the centre are more resilient and connected and offer a better quality of life for their residents.

Building Better Schools: Investing in Scotland’s Future (2009) the Scottish Government and COSLA’s joint school estate strategy sets out their shared vision for Scotland’s schools:
“… which signal the high value we place on learning; which people and communities can enjoy using and can be proud; which are well designed, maintained and managed and which encourage continuous engagement with learning; which are far more than just ‘educational establishments’ whose quality of environment supports an accessible range of services and opportunities and which enrich the communities they serve and the lives of learners and families.”

Play Strategy Action Plan for Scotland (2014) action 7 is to:

  • audit the current levels of community access to school grounds
  • identify key influencing factors
  • consider options for increasing community access to school grounds out of school hours
  • ensure that opportunities for outdoor free play are easily accessible in the community and that school grounds are valued places for play in the local community
  • work with Local Authorities to achieve high quality school grounds in new build schools, so that schools have well designed, inclusive, and where possible community-accessible play spaces, green spaces and gardens.

Learning for Sustainability The recommendations were accepted by the Scottish Parliament in 2013. One of the five key recommendations is that school buildings, grounds and policies should support learning for sustainability.

Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland: A Routemap Towards Healthy Weight Action Plan: section 2.18 Working together to find realistic ways of maximising physical activity within the school environment.


Email: Deborah Gallagher

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