Scotland's Play Strategy: Playing with quality and equality: a review of inclusive play in Scotland

A review of inclusive play in Scotland.

2. Review Process & Methodology

Literature Review

The Review of Literature, Inclusive play in Scotland: context, concepts and current research, (Scottish Government, 2015) established the existing evidence base. The Executive Summary can be found in Appendix 1.

The Literature Review first considered definitional issues surrounding the concepts of play and inclusive play. It was found that play, because of its complex and varied nature, is commonly defined in reference to play as a process: an activity that is freely chosen, intrinsically motivated and distinguished by means and not ends. While there were a number of interlocking concepts in the ways in which 'inclusive play' was described, it was found that there were also a number of disparities resulting in different types of services being described as 'inclusive'. The author proposed that in order to move forward with primary research in this field, a succinct definition of inclusive play needed to be decided upon. This should draw upon the body of research discussed in the Literature Review and directly address possible misinterpretations of that definition by taking a stance on the commonly conflicting notions of inclusive play.

The question of definitions was tackled in the review with the development of 'Working Definitions' for each of the four domains of the Play Strategy. Whether it is possible or even desirable to arrive at a definition was an emergent theme of the review, echoing the 'troublesome' aspect of researching play as described in the Literature Review. This resulted in an attempt at an overarching concept encapsulated in Quality and Equality, which was elaborated upon in relation to the four domains. This aimed to articulate the aspirations for play opportunities which are inclusive in nature, more fully than could be captured in a simple sentence. (See Section 3 below)

The Literature Review went on to review the empirical research into 'inclusive play' for a number of groups of children identified by the United Nations as requiring 'special attention in order to realise their rights under article 31 (General Comment no.17 on the right of the child to rest leisure, play, cultural life and the arts. (2013) UN Committee on the Rights of the Child). It concentrated therefore upon girls, children living in poverty, disabled children, children in institutions and children from minority communities. It aimed to identify the possible barriers to inclusion in play faced by these groups and to review the key research and data into the inclusivity of play in the Scottish context.

The implications of these findings were discussed at the first meeting of the Inclusive Play Review Reference Group. The Reference Group was made up of members of the Play Strategy Implementation Group (PSIG), for Scotland's Disabled Children (fSDC) and Parenting Across Scotland (PAS) and met at three points in the project.

Review process

As well as the Literature Review, some key ideas and themes had already been established in the Play Strategy Action Plan. These included descriptions of what was meant by various terms and desired outcomes for the four domains of the play strategy. These helped to provide a common language and understanding on which to base the review. For the purposes of the review, particularly useful were the descriptions of:

  • What do we mean by play?
  • What do we mean by all children?
  • What do we mean by high quality play opportunities?

What do we mean by play?

Children play in lots of different places and circumstances. Play can happen indoors or outdoors, with or without the oversight of adults, in everyday spaces, in environments designed for play and in places chosen by children and young people.

Playing is described as having characteristics of fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and non-productivity (that is it doesn't need an end result or 'product').

Play theorists describe play as children's behaviour which is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. This means it isn't performed for a particular goal set by someone else or for a reward. There is much agreement that play is a fundamental part of healthy development.

What do we mean by all children?

Our Vision for play is for all our children and young people in Scotland. Children of all ages, stages and abilities should have the opportunity to realise their right to play without discrimination of any kind.

However, many children face attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers to accessing play opportunities and provision. Pro-active measures are needed to remove the barriers and promote accessibility to, and availability of, inclusive opportunities to participate.

What do we mean by high quality play opportunities?

'High quality play opportunities' will look and feel different in different circumstances and locations. However, in terms of the provision of play opportunities and environments, in general we might expect 'high quality opportunities' to happen when:

the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are put into practice

the environment provides stimulus for play to flourish

if adults are involved, they work to established ethical and professional standards.

Children do have 'high quality' play experiences outwith the view of adults and in circumstances and locations that were not intended for play.

Play Strategy: Our Action Plan (2013) Scottish Government
For full text see:

Gathering information

The Review Team gathered information in five ways:

  • Existing information was invited in the form of recent surveys, local consultations or reports.
  • Online surveys for adults and for children and young people were launched on the 15th July 2014, closing at midnight on the 27th August 2014. The children and young people's survey allowed respondents to answer either of a parallel set of questions - the first was suitable for children and young people describing their activities as play or playing. The second was generally more suitable for older children and used terms such as free time and leisure and was informed by the Working Definition for Play for Older Children and Young People. (See Appendix 2). The surveys were delivered through SurveyMonkey. There were 79 responses to the children and young people's survey and 594 to the adults' survey (12 of which were responses from a child or young person).
  • Interviews and conversations took place individually and in groups, in person and by email and phone to consult on the topic.
  • Consultation packs were made available to children's groups so that they could organise their own consultations using the review questions. The packs included guidance, questions, A3-sized sketchbooks and visual 'icons' for the domains of the play strategy. In total nineteen packs were returned.
  • Review events: four events were held towards the end of the review period to discuss preliminary findings and to test emerging themes and conclusions. These were held in:
  • Dundee with a focus on the Play Sector
  • Glasgow with a focus on Public Space, the Built Environment and Inclusive Play
  • Dingwall with a multi-disciplinary focus (e.g. health, community, planning, play, care etc.) in Highland area/rural communities
  • Inzievar Primary School, Oakley, Fife, with Primary 5 pupils who had been already been involved in the consultation process.

Summary of participation in the review


  • There were 594 respondents to the adults' survey, with respondents from every local authority area in Scotland.
  • There were 79 respondents to the children and young people's survey, with respondents from 19 of Scotland's 32 local authority areas

Direct consultations were carried out with 12 Groups and 16 Individuals

Consultation packs were returned from 10 organisations or groups (a total of 19 packs), involving 161 children and young people

Review events involved 66 children, young people and adults

The Review Reference Group was drawn from members of the Play Strategy Implementation Group, for Scotland's Disabled Children (fSDC) and Parenting Across Scotland.

In order to monitor and adjust if necessary to achieve acceptable level of reach in the review, data was recorded to indicate: locations of participants as Dense Urban, Urban, Rural or Remote Rural; the age groups with which participants were most concerned; and the groups of children and young people with whom the participants were most concerned.

The Review of Inclusive Play in Scotland was not conceived of as an audit rather as an opportunity to gather information and evidence of the current context from a number of different perspectives. The review took place largely over the summer holiday period in Scotland which presented some challenges in reaching children, families and professionals. Pro-active strategies to reach out as widely as possible were used and there was a high degree of support from a number of organisations and individuals in publicising and participating in the review. Where strong evidence was already available, as suggested in the Literature Review, the review team tried to avoid duplicating this so as to concentrate on investigating areas about which less is known.


Email: Deborah Gallagher

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