16. Rules and Regulations
The application (and misapplication) of rules and regulations negatively impacts on the quality of opportunities for play
Inflexible or inappropriate rules and regulations (or the application of them) emerged as one of the biggest barriers identified in the survey section on nursery, school, early learning and childcare.
We wondered if this is a problem regarding play opportunities and services in a general sense, or does it have specific implications in relation to inclusion. We went on to explore this further in the events and asked questions such as why rules and regulations were considered such a barrier. We considered examples and the implications for inclusion and play.
There is a concern that schools often have unnecessarily restrictive rules for no apparent or unsurmountable reason, for example, rules about when children have access to grass, are allowed to climb, run, hide, play tig, rules about children's use of diverse spaces in school grounds (often the most interesting spaces seemed to be out of bounds) and use of play spaces throughout the school day. Rather than appropriate framework for play time having been thought through together by staff and children, rules seemed to develop in an ad hoc fashion such as one individual in a school or service setting laying down rules (e.g. the janitor or the playground supervisor), imposition of a static set of rules or tokenistic involvement of children.
There was a perception that rules are often imposed due to fear rather than with a positive focus on the benefits of play. These arguments are well rehearsed in the literature on play: fear of legal action, fear of being considered negligent, fear of disorder or loss of control. In addition it was suggested that rules are sometimes simply "made up" to make people's jobs easier.
The 'myth or reality' debate also played itself out in the review with many examples given of participants doubting the basis on which a decision was made, for example children in school not being allowed to use tools because the "Health and Safety Officer would say no".
Again, in community settings the issues about fear, social cohesion and attitudes to children and young people are well rehearsed elsewhere. The continued prevalence of "no ball games" signs is a visible signal of discouragement to play and an underlying intolerance of children and young people in public and community spaces. Parents fear being judged negligent for allowing their children to play outside or to be wearing scruffy or dirty clothes. It was again noted that perception of risk from strangers is magnified many times by tragic but isolated cases and media attention. Traffic is continually reported by adults and children as a barrier to playing outside.
There was a concern that while some out of school services and schools have productive and mutually beneficial relationships, others feel that the relationship is uneasy due to the different ethos of each while sharing the same space. Their approaches to negotiating rules, use of space, understanding of play types and assessing risk and benefit did not sit easily together under one roof.
In the home environment, perceptions of the impact of rules and regulations related more to parents' level of understanding of the benefits of different types of play and ability to accommodate them at home, however reference was also made to rules in social housing that made creating a playful environment for children more difficult.
This review was not able to pin down specific dimensions of rules and regulations which impact on inclusion in and through play (which is not to say that they don't exist). The review does however strongly suggest that the application of rules and regulations do have a significant impact on the quality of play experiences available to children in all types of settings on an everyday basis. And, as the review has highlighted quality matters to the achievement of inclusion.
This review therefore recommends that a major effort be made to embed a Risk-Benefit approach to children's play.
This approach was outlined by Lord Young in his 2010 report Common Sense, Common Safety (Cabinet Office, 2010), in the Health and Safety Executive High Level Statement on Children's Play and Leisure - Promoting a Balanced Approach (2012), in the Play Safety Forum's Managing Risk in Play Provision (National Children's Bureau, 2012), and supported in Good Places Better Health (Scottish Government 2011).
This is the vision
"We want Scotland to be the best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all our children and young people; in their homes, nurseries, schools and communities." Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision (2013) Scottish Government.
These are some of the things that could help achieve this.
It would help if:
- The Risk- Benefit approach, were firmly embedded and consistently implemented throughout the hierarchy of structures within which children's play opportunities happen on a daily basis. That is, consistently implemented and integrated through all levels - practice, management, training, development and support, communications, strategy, policy, inspection, legislation (see also Section 7).
Email: Deborah Gallagher