Bristol organisation shows why playtime is as important as class time

Teachers from five European countries visit ‘OPAL’ schools where improved playtimes have produced impressive results.

Monday 12 February: Last week, 30 delegates from Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary flew to Bristol to get expert advice on playtime management and design from the Bristol-based community interest company Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL).
OPAL supports primary schools to dramatically improve the quality of day-to-day playtimes. Consequential benefits include improvements in lunchtime behaviour, engagement, learning, personal development and physical activity.
The delegates, which included headteachers, teachers, university staff, psychologists and education experts, visited four OPAL Platinum Award primary schools in the area. They met with headteachers and staff who have completely changed their attitude and approach to playtime provision.
Dr Iva Klimešová, a visitor from the Education Department at Palacký University in the Czech Republic, said: “The experience made us all wish to help develop a kind, child-friendly school. It was extremely refreshing to see children in such numbers happy, deeply submerged in play, absolutely natural, themselves. One couldn’t not notice that it wasn’t just the children who looked happy – it was everyone at the scene. It was contagious.”
With many children finding organised PE and sports activities a total turn-off, OPAL is addressing the childhood inactivity crisis by making playtimes fun, active and playful. It supports schools to make the best use of their outdoor space. Shockingly, OPAL has found that schools typically only allow pupils to use 17 per cent of the available outside space for two thirds of the year because of concerns such as getting dirty, injuries and supervision requirements.
Michael Follett, OPAL Director, said: “There are serious consequences to children not having the space, environment and resources to freely play each day. Without excellent playtimes, children lead increasingly sedentary lives, they are less focused on learning when they return to the classroom, and their social development and life skills can be held back. Making playtime a key part of the school day can address all of these issues. That’s why we were delighted to host our European colleagues last week and take the first steps to making sure the OPAL ethos can benefit even more children.”
The visit was part of a project to identify a European ‘kite mark’ for quality, based on the OPAL Programme. OPAL has been recommended by the All Party Parliamentary Group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood, co-chaired by Baroness Floella Benjamin, to the UK government as the ‘gold standard’ for play provision in the UK’s 20,000 primary schools.