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

A review of inclusive play in Scotland.

7. At nursery, school, early learning and childcare adults' survey

In the context of school, nursery and early learning and childcare, what do you feel are barriers to children and young people being able to participate fully in play?

Figure 11 Adults' survey

Figure 11 Adults' survey

Amongst a range of factors, the survey responses suggested inflexible or inappropriate rules (e.g. interpretation of Health and Safety, Inspections) along with inadequate outdoor environments have an impact on the inclusive quality of play.

"We have found that we continually have to use the high level statement by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) about risk and challenge in play to local authorities. On more than one occasion, we have had directly contradictory statements made by the council(s) regarding their adherence to this, along the lines of "ah, yes but, we'll get sued/criticised/etc."

"Poorly qualified teaching assistants who fail to understand rules. Also, overly strict rules for wet play and accidents (such as a child being hit with a ball) that lead to children being told off - for playing!"

"Don't think the rules are inflexible but the interpretation of them can vary to suit the individual!"

"…most school settings that I have come across certainly don't have stimulating spaces and the stimulating spaces that they do have are too often under used due to unsubstantiated health and safety risks and lack of training for both teachers and playground assistants. As far as nature is concerned, a lot of the schools that I know, often don't allow the children out at play time if it is raining and the playgrounds are mainly tarmac which is not ideal."

There were also other interlocking issues highlighted including time constraints, costs, resources, management and leadership, negative attitudes and parental fears.

"Untrained staff. Unqualified staff. Play staff emulating teachers. School settings being used as Play settings. Not enough staff/funding for reduced staff: child ratios."

"Children who have additional support needs are not given enough support to participate positively in playground activities and this can often lead to them being kept indoors at break times or forced in to situations they can't cope with which leads to incidents where they may be excluded from school or bullied."

In the context of school, nursery and early learning and childcare, do you feel there is anything that stops staff being able to facilitate/support inclusive play opportunities in a way that responds to children and young people's play needs and wishes.

Figure 12 Adults' survey

Figure 12 Adults' survey

Three barriers were particularly highlighted: insufficient training, time constraints and adults' lack of confidence.

"For myself I feel that I cannot fully play with the children in my care as much of my time is filled up with paperwork. I feel I spend more time planning, evidencing and evaluating activities then I actually do taking part and enjoying the activity with the children."

"Staff team don't seem to know what play is themselves! The generation coming into the work force don't have the knowledge from their own childhood and this is proving difficult because no matter how much training you give them they are adults - generally scared of the experience and have difficulty in changing."

A number of responses illustrated different professional perspectives on play. In a school setting in particular, these perspectives sometimes result in mutual learning and benefit and sometimes clash. A number of respondents suggested the need to open up to shared learning. It was noted that power and status differentials between different professions (teaching staff, playworkers, playground assistants etc.) sometimes hindered dialogue.

"The challenge is shifting mindset and therefore priorities within schools. This is combined with the additional challenge in primary schools of thinking we know more about play than we actually do in combination with a critical play sector who forgets that a lot of play does happen in schools. Just perhaps not in the way the play sector would like."

In the context of school, nursery and early learning and childcare, would you suggest play opportunities should be facilitated or supported differently in any way from the way they are currently?

This question generated 103 individual comments. Key themes amongst these were: training, developing a better understanding of play in schools including play time and access to resources.

"All staff should be fully qualified and there should be a mixture of experience amongst the staff so that less experienced staff can learn from those who have more experience. Training is often completed but not implemented appropriately."

"More resources given to the nursery so they can provide the staff necessary for 1-2-1 support if required and extra training given to help the staff. It's great that most children are going to mainstream facilities despite having additional needs but the mainstream facility staff need additional training to help them cope and to bring out the best in the child."

"Disappointed that active schools programme cannot influence more play options.....physical activity options needs to be offered in a spectrum but disjointed services create perceptions of sport only attitudes."

"There should be every encouragement by inspectors to encourage improved usage of any indoor/outdoor space, risks should be dealt with from a benefit perspectives, outdoor/indoor space can be utilised by letting children play with free natural resources"

"There is often a lack of expertise/experience of what free play means, with staff scared to intervene or contribute to the play, worrying that they will stifle or inhibit the experience rather than appreciating that they might enrich it. A more skilled and balanced approach across settings would improve play experiences in my local area."

In the context of school, nursery and early learning and childcare, can you give us any examples of times when things were set up really well, support was offered in such a way that really helped, or in which children and young people's wishes were genuinely respected in a way that helped them feel included?

The following is a small section from the many positive examples offered.

"There was a fantastic example of inclusion with a recent low key 'sports day' facilitated in a local nursery by a student from the High School. There were a great selection of sporting events presented for the children to participate in, in teams, with necessary adjustments made for the children with additional support needs to ensure they were fully included at all times. When a young child chose not to participate, this wish was supported and he was still made to feel part of the team and not once made to feel emotionally/physically isolated as a result of his choice to watch."

"We have also recently run a pilot project in conjunction… in Fife offering a Friendship and Storytelling Club on a Saturday during the summer holidays when many children and young people can become quite isolated as there is no school where they can mingle with their peers. This has been a huge success."

"at my little ones mainstream school they have been fantastic in supporting play, through more 1:1 support, involving us as parents to ensure he can be included but supported to his best ability and through using the guidance of also PE staff and active schools. However if family support was not available there may have been many times where the school would have done their best given their current resources but my little one would have struggled to enjoy play and be supported at his level to challenge new ideas and abilities."

"We redeveloped our outdoor play area. With advice and support, we consulted with parents and ensured that as many areas of the garden were as accessible as possible to all children. Paths were made wide enough for all children to access and fixed raised tables were put in place a various locations around the sandpit."

"Having the right equipment for children with additional needs - e.g. an adapted bike enabled a child we had with cerebral palsy to be as mobile within the group as the other children and they loved him cycling with them as an equal. One child commented that 'on his bike A is the same as us - we don't have to help him anymore."

This is the outcome we are aiming for

"All children and young people enjoy high quality play opportunities, particularly outdoor free play in stimulating spaces with access to nature, on a daily basis in school, nursery and early learning and childcare." Play Strategy for Scotland: Our Vision (2013) Scottish Government.

These are things that would help achieve this

It would help if:

  • Equality training was undertaken by all the members of the school community - adults, children and young people.
  • There was a serious examination at national level of what quality play provision for all children would look like in schools, including dialogue about the nature of 'free play'.
  • There was play training in teaching qualifications (Initial Teacher Education onwards).
  • The skills of play workforce were utilised in schools.
  • Attention was given to playtime and lunchtime in schools taking into account the need for appropriate resources, design of outdoor spaces and management of outdoor spaces including in Granted Aided Special Schools and Special Schools.
  • Principles of Access for All and Universal Design [3] were promoted for the design and development of play spaces in nursery, school, early learning and childcare.
  • The role and job descriptions of staff with responsibility for playground supervision were developed reflecting play principles, and with suitable training available to support this.
  • There was ready access to practical information and advice to assist with meeting the needs of individual children. (See Online Hub, Positive Support for Play)
  • A strong high-level lead was given by the Scottish Government and Community Planning Partnerships to implementing the Risk-Benefit Assessment approach to play in all settings in which children spend time encompassing clear support for the Risk-Benefit approach to disabled children's play opportunities (see also Section 16)
  • Work was done with parents through nursery, school, early learning and childcare, to increase understanding of the value of play.
  • The role of Playgroups, Toddler Groups and Childminders, often the first play settings outside the family for very young children, was recognised (though support, training, etc.) as having particular importance to supporting inclusion in the very early years.


Email: Deborah Gallagher

Back to top