Help build the policy case for play

kids playing on big letters spelling play

Playday, Bristol City Council

This post asks for your help in building the case for play. I am writing a report – aimed at Government – that gathers together evidence for the difference that play facilities and initiatives can make to children, families and communities. And I need your help in pulling together this evidence. I hope you agree this is an important and urgent task, given the scale of recent cuts to play facilities.

The project stems from the Children’s Play Policy Forum (CPPF – a cross-sector body bringing together agencies with an interest in play from across the UK). Last October, CPPF set up a round-table meeting with Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society at the Cabinet Office. The minister expressed an interest in children’s play, and asked for evidence of its relevance to Government’s policies and goals. As a result, CPPF – with financial support from the Association of Play Industries – has commissioned me to produce a short report on this evidence.

So what am I looking for? I want to gather credible, primary, quantitative material that shows the benefits of improving children’s opportunities for free play. The material could be academic studies, research, evaluation reports or other findings.

The project is a kind of literature review. It is not attempting to be systematic in an academic sense (unlike my Sowing the Seeds evidence report for the Mayor of London). But it is looking for material that has some authority – that is likely to persuade the sceptic. It is also focused on outcomes that are of interest to Government.

The project is not looking directly at structured or directed play in (for instance) early years, outdoor learning or therapeutic contexts Similarly, the project is not looking directly at the impact of childcare provision (such as out-of-school clubs). However, material from any of these areas will be considered, if they are relevant to free play contexts.

The project has a UK focus. However, material from other countries, especially those with similar cultures and economies, may well be relevant.

To summarise, I am looking for material that meets all of the following criteria. It should:

  • Be primary material with quantitative data;
  • Use a credible methodology (the way the data was gathered should be clear and sound);
  • Be relevant to a UK context (though it could be from beyond the UK);
  • Address outcomes that are of interest to Government. These could include:
    • Mental and physical health and well-being
    • Child development
    • Learning and academic attainment
    • Crime and anti-social behaviour
    • Community cohesion and volunteering
  • Be relevant to the following kinds of facilities and interventions:
    • Unstaffed public play areas and similar facilities aimed at children and young people
    • Staffed adventure playgrounds and other supervised play services
    • Improving opportunities for free play in schools and early years and childcare settings
    • Play in streets

How can you help? First, tell me about any relevant primary studies, reports or similar material that you are aware of. I cannot promise that material that is sent will end up in the report. Moreover, while I am happy to clarify what I am looking for, I may not be able to get into debates about specific material, because of time constraints and the urgency of the task. Material from an authoritative and/or independent source such as an academic institution or independent evaluator is more likely to be included. But convincing material from other sources may also make the grade. If you are unsure about the relevance of a particular piece of material, the following checklist should help you decide:

  • Does your contribution meet all the criteria set out above?
    • Quantitative, primary material
    • Clear, credible methodology
    • Addresses outcomes of interest to Government
    • Relevant to free play situations and a UK context.
  • Have you provided a source for your material – a report, academic paper, article or website? If not, have you pointed me to where I can find such a source?

You may be wondering whether I am looking for evidence on play per se, or on the impact of play facilities and initiatives. This is a good question, and my response is to throw the question back. This exercise is about building the policy case for different types of play interventions on the ground. However, it may be that more fundamental empirical evidence about play as a process is relevant to this.

Also, if you know of writings (such as academic or policy papers, discussion articles, or journalism) that might signpost relevant primary material, or any researchers or other people who I could contact, then likewise, get in touch.

How should you get in touch? The best way to submit evidence is to email me – the address is on my Contact page. Also, feel free to share your thoughts here, or via my Facebook page, twitter, LinkedIn or my page on I would also be very grateful if you could share this request to anyone you think may be able to help.

Finally, here’s a deadline for contributions: Monday 3 March 2014.

Thanks in advance for your help in building the case for play. The plan is that the report will be published, so that you and others can make use of it.

34 responses to “Help build the policy case for play

  1. Pingback: Help @timgill build a policy case for play… | Timberplay Scotland

  2. Hi Tim, you’ve likely already seen the research by Brendon Hyndman published recently in the Australian Journal of Teacher Education. In short it’s a study of the use of loose parts in a primary school. I’m in the midst of writing a short post on it. The findings are quite astounding to a newbie like me. Will look forward to reading the brief and will promote your request through PlayGroundology. Cheers, Alex

  3. Hi Tim,
    Glen Nielsen’s recent PhD project called “Children ‘s Daily Physical Activity”, from the University of Copenhagen showed that free play is more important than organized sport. He might be worth contacting. I posted about it on my blog here:

  4. Reblogged this on Policy for Play and commented:
    This week I am re-blogging this potentially important post from Tim Gill’s Re-Thinking Childhood blog, about a research project to inform the play policy case to the current government.

    Before becoming an independent writer and researcher, Tim was my predecessor as director of the Children’s Play Council (CPC) and a close associate of Play England through the key years that followed. He was one of the researchers who helped us to marshal the evidence in 2005 -7, as we put the case for a national Play Strategy to the Government of the time.

    Earlier, as director of CPC, he was a co-author of Making the Case for Play, which first set out the vision for a cohesive national play policy in 2001; and, seconded to Whitehall, he also researched and drafted the Play Review under Frank Dobson MP, a year or two later. This formed the basis for the lottery Play Programme that followed and paved the way for the subsequent government investment.

    Tim therefore has considerable form in this area. Let’s take this as a good omen that, although we are now in a very different economic and political climate, perhaps this government too is finally getting serious about play.

    • As I said over on your blog Adrian: Thanks for this reblog, and for the positive take on my historic contributions. Different times now of course, but still some campaigns to be waged. I’ve already had some helpful new material, but the better the evidence base the greater our chance of success.

  5. I am a recently retired Primary School teacher (retired on health grounds so still fairly young) and have experience working with children from 3 to 11, and know the value of play from a developmental point of view and an educational one. The point I want to make just now, though, is not about research it’s a practical one and a personal one.

    When I was a child we lived in streets where we had easy access to green areas to play, within eye shot of our parents and our parents friends; this seems to be no longer the case and presumably one you wish to challenge the government about. Over my adult life our society has become more and more afraid of itself; afraid of neighbours and sometimes family. One dreadful situation is extrapolated into the general and before we know it all Rumanians are thieves and cannot be trusted; all black men want to harm us; anyone with a mental illness will kill you. It’s like a really bad fairy tale; one where the prince does not rescue the princess, or the evil witch dies.

    Living without green spaces encourages this ‘going nowhere’ thinking. We forget that underneath our fear, and anger, and anxiousness is our humanity which is nourished by green grass, and fresh air; stretching our legs climbing trees, and stretching our confidence discovering how far we can go. Green spaces teach us that we belong to the earth, not the other way round; they teach us that we belong to the insects we discover, the animal we see frightened by our noise; we discover that we are responsible for making sure that we leave behind a place for these beings to continue to live.

    This leads me back to my first point. I believe if our houses were built in crescents around a green space where we could see our children play; where our neighbours could keep an eye out for our children from time to time, we would build communities again who belonged to the earth, and to each other.

    • Julia – thanks for these observations. I agree that we need to give much more thought to the way we design communities, so that it is easier for children to play out of doors and get around – and easier for parents to let them. Browse my site and you fill find lots more on this topic of child-friendly neighbourhoods, towns and cities – and a fair bit on scaremongering and excessive risk aversion.

  6. Tim I have put together some of the current UK docs on play in schools
    I also have many heads that would happily advocate for the difference high quality play has made to the quality of the whole school.

  7. Fair Play to you and API for persistence, Tim.

    I have two points, firstly, the way the research brief is framed probably excludes 99% of all possible submissions, and secondly I’m getting increasingly weary of the relentless, market-inspired demand for play to be justified.

    What is the market case for breathing? What is the contribution of food to well-being?


  8. Pingback: Evidence for play | grumpysutcliffe

  9. Michael, Arthur – thanks for the comments. Michael – I’ll check out those docs. Arthur – the brief responds to the minister’s stated interests, and to our (by which I mean my and CPPF’s) shared view of what might best advance our case. As I imply in the post, we are not so much interested in the case for play as the case for interventions that improve play opportunities. It’s an important distinction. To adopt your parallel: this is not about the policy case for breathing or food, it’s about the policy case for interventions that improve breathing or diet – and Government does indeed have in interest in evidence on these topics (eg in pollution control, air quality or giving schoolkids free fruit). I think it is reasonable for policy makers to ask for help in figuring out what measurable difference the initiatives it is considering might make to people’s lives. It’s not the only consideration, but it is important, and it is something that play advocates have in my view not so far said enough about.

  10. Tim, You may want to contact Robin Moore, NC State University (USA).
    He has done some redesign work, recently, as noted on his page, and has history in the field ( Many of his current studies are documented and also interventions. Best of luck!

  11. Reblogged this on Love Outdoor Play and commented:
    Can you help? We met with Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, just before Christmas and Tim is building what we hope will be the definitive case for play. Please get involved if you can.

    • You may be aware, already, of Dr Dick Jackson’s books regarding how health is related to the built environment. “Designing healthy Communities”, and “Making healthy places” are used as texts in college design classes or environmental studies classes. He does address childhood environments, especially from the aspect of health and incidental exercise, that most often is called “Active Transport” in the EU. Here he talks to the US GBC (Green Building Council) and Dr Jackson starts about 16:00 into the clip. Sadly, there’s alot of evidence about play’s importance, but not many examples of governments putting it to use…I wish I could help you more.

  12. Hi Tim, great work, keep going…but can you credit our image next time you use it. Either Playday, Bristol or Play, Bristol City Council, all the best Tom

    • Tom, thanks for the support. I have credited the image. I usually try to do this for images that are not my own, but I did not have the details in my photo library and had forgotten the source. My bad.

  13. Hi Tim,

    See the attached research review carried out by Sport England in (I think) 2012. Some of it may be relevant to what you want.


    Marcus Bailie Head of Inspection Adventure Activities Licensing Service

    Tel: 029 2075 5715 E-mail:

    From: Rethinking Childhood Reply-To: Rethinking Childhood Date: Mon, 20 Jan 2014 10:48:13 +0000 To: Subject: [New post] Help build the policy case for play

    Tim Gill posted: “This post asks for your help in building the case for play. I am writing a report – aimed at Government – that gathers together evidence for the difference that play facilities and initiatives can make to children, families and communities. And I need you”

    (linkedin inclusion club)
    Bankshot emerged from the therapeutic design
    initiative on inclusion advocacy in Israel.
    (encyclopedia of play)

    Deception, Inclusion & Accessibility
    Further information on play….see
    Reeve Brenner

  15. Hi Tim, I’m with the Association of Play Industries. Is there anything in particular we can help you with for your evidence call. API members are building thousands of play spaces every year. How can we best help you as an association?

    • Hi Julie, and thanks for this. By coincidence I have just emailed Michael Hoenigmann (in his capacity as chair of the API) asking for more help. I’ll forward you and Deborah at API the email.

  16. Dr. Brendon Hyndman

    Hi there,

    Here’s a link to a paper of interest recently released:

    I can also send through a qualitative paper on the project,


    • Thanks for this Brendon, and for your email. I have found another paper you co-wrote on the LEAP project too (from the Australian Journal of Teacher Education).

      • BULLYING IN THE YEAR 2013….. by Rebecca Plesset
        In the lineup under the glare of recent intense scrutiny stand the accused: video games, brutal movies, school cliques, and other cultural dispositions promoting bad behavior. And all are guilty as charged. Their relative degree of culpability to be determined by further research. The crime: bullying.
        And there smack in the middle as culpable as the others: sports. Sorry jocks. Sport is a word ultimately derived from Sparta, a bullying warlike aggressive folk. At least according to infamous reputation, Sparta knew no Good Samaritans in their circle of friends. And our sports almost without exception score as combat sports played against opponents rather than alongside playmates. The notable exceptions are golf, bowling and Bankshot, the latter designed for that purpose by a rabbi.
        We play opponents to beat and defeat others and we try to convince ourselves despite the research and studies, that the rivalry in sports is good and healthy and will prepare our youngsters for life in a dog eat dog world. We call the war-like rivalry, “games” and “play.” Participants are called “players” and we convince ourselves to cultivate everything sporty as in sportsmanship. We pretend that sports do not relate to promoting bullying and aggression, heaven forbid. It’s all fun and games! And we say falsely that body banging is contained solely on the field of play with no carry over to life off the field.
        We think we teach sportsmanship because for the really young children we teach war-like games – baseball, football, soccer etc. but don’t keep score. What nonsense. We are willfully oblivious of the research by Alfie Kohn in his very important book, No Contest: The Case Against Competition, and Emily Bazelon’s, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying, and other important studies.
        With willful ignorance we invest budgets, large fields and space, attention and promotion, of this defeat-others, aggressive, mentality. Never mind that the sports, precisely because of being rivalry-dependent based upon size, stamina, speed, offense and defense, exclude far more than they include others. There is little effort to remedy the problem by advancing the Bankshot concept: “total-mix sports diversity based on universal design.” Play alongside rather than against others. There is no integration or inclusion in our society’s sports of the differently able, wheelchair participants and special populations. There are no non-aggressive mainstreaming facilities for them. Separated unequally, they have to wait for a program sometime later in the week or next week or not at all. With Bankshot a notable exception, there are no drop-in companionable sports facilities for them.
        We must ask why so few companionable sports like Bankshot, bowling, golf and so many combat sports: football, soccer, baseball, basketball, rugby etc always against an opponent, inevitably with offense and defense, speed, strength and gender most determinative of all factors.
        Mental health professionals are not suggesting there is a direct link between elementary school violence like in Connecticut or the “Playing fields of Eton.” But the culture of combat, promoted in our ball-playing sports, is an undeniably unfortunate reality. There are remedies. Why ignore them?

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