Developing Quality Criteria for a Play-friendly School

Written by Wendy Russell (university of Gloucestershire, UK)

Hurrah! The CAPS project partners have now agreed a set of five Quality Criteria for a Play-friendly School. This has been a good process, drawing on the knowledge and experiences of all partners, and especially our project consultant, Michael Follett, founder of OPAL (Outdoor Play and Learning).

How did we go about developing these criteria?

Part of the project aim was to draw on the UK tradition of playwork (both inside and outside schools) as a transfer of knowledge and expertise, but to develop National Adaptation Plans so that the ways this is introduced to partner countries is appropriate to the policies and practices of each country.

To begin with, the UK partner undertook research into existing Quality Assurance schemes and other relevant projects, in order to see what had already been done, how these might be useful for our project, and to highlight key issues for partners to debate and agree. This was discussed at our UK partner meeting in February 2018, after partners had had the opportunity of visiting several primary schools who had gained OPAL accreditation. Key themes that emerged from this research were:

  • A whole school approach: get the school culture right

  • A play policy and a senior lead member of staff responsible

  • Time, space and permission to play during the school day

  • The environment: o co-creating a space where play can happen o rich and varied, loose parts o the space can be modified by children o leave space open for self-organised play to emerge (questions of adult-child relationships, ‘intervention’ and ‘adulteration’) o an overall playful feel

Other issues that were discussed included:

  • Design

  • Risk

  • Inclusion and difference

  • Resources (physical, conceptual, staff support)

  • What does play-friendly mean beyond the playground and play time: o the classroom o other aspects of school life o out of school hours

Country groups (partners and their national advisory groups) discussed these themes and ideas and then shared their national perspectives with the full group, and this feedback informed the development of the Quality Criteria. The overall ethos and principles were agreed.

In addition, there was much debate about how schools might be assessed against the Quality Criteria – should there be a national or international organisation that could quality assure the evidence from schools and award the label, or should it be self-evaluation? As can be imagined, the discussion was lively, as it had to take account of how to resource an assurance system or how to retain the value of the label if schools self-evaluated. Things may emerge differently across at national level across partners, and solutions have been written into each country’s National Adaptation Plan; for the project as a whole, the intention is to develop it as a self-evaluation process, but require schools to publish their evidence online. This aspect has yet to be fully developed.

Following our discussions, the Quality Criteria were drafted and partners discussed these at our meeting in Olomouc in June 2018. The second draft was then shared with advisory groups and discussed at a ‘virtual’ partner meeting in September 2018, and were finally agreed and have now been published.

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