First, I would like to thank everyone who has responded so far to my appeal last month for evidence to build the policy case for play. The material I have received has almost without exception fitted my brief. But there are gaps, so I am putting out one last call for help.
I have a lot of material on school breaktime/recess projects. I also have a fair amount on physical activity, in relation to both school projects and parks and public play areas.
However, I have much less material on other potential benefits (such as other health benefits, developmental and educational benefits, and outcomes around community cohesion or crime reduction). And I have comparatively little information on initiatives and programmes that go beyond the public park, play area or school playground.
Thus far, I have just been looking for quantitative material in the form of academic studies and evaluation reports. I am loosening this a little, and would also be interested in authoritative, positive quotes or statements from people who are in a position to persuade the as-yet unconvinced.
The kind of people I am thinking of are those who have an independent perspective – people who you would not necessarily expect to be supporters of play. At the risk of labouring the point, compare these two statements:
- “Townsdale Adventure playground manager says his adventure playground has cut anti-social behaviour.”
- “Townsdale chief of police says the local adventure playground has cut anti-social behaviour.”
It is statements like the second that I am looking for. They may well find a place in the final report, especially where they can be supported by quantitative evidence.
So this is a final invitation to submit material that you think may be relevant, and that would help to fill these gaps. And a reminder: there is an overall focus on children’s freely chosen play. Responses by the slightly later deadline of 7 March 2014 would be much appreciated. As before, the best way is to email me – the address is on my Contact page.
A final word
Some people have responded to my original request with dismay, or even hostility (not to me personally, but to the project). This is understandable. Play services are, as we know, suffering drastic cuts. Good, committed people are losing their jobs, ultimately as a result of decisions made by the current Government. Even if some of its members may be having second thoughts, a degree of anger is unsurprising, and justifiable. Though it should be remembered that play is not exactly being singled out.
Criticisms have been made about this project. Some point out that this is hardly the first time in recent years that play advocates have been asked to make our case. Others question the emphasis on measurable outcomes.
I have some sympathy with these views too. It can be frustrating to feel that we are going over old territory. And it is tempting to think that the value of play is surely evident to anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen.
However, I take a different view. While this project may feel like retreading old ground to those of us who have been around for a while, we need to remember that the public policy weather rarely stays settled for long. Governments change. Ministers come and go. Officials and advisers move on. The machinery of government has a poor collective memory.
What is more, the call for numbers does not necessarily reflect a blinkered view of children’s play experiences. Governments are in the business of making a difference to people’s lives. The call for evidence is not really about the value of play per se. It is about the impact of initiatives, programmes and interventions that improve children’s opportunities for play.
It is reasonable for decision makers, when pondering a given initiative, programme or intervention, to want answers to the question “what difference will it make?” As a believer in Enlightenment principles of evidence and argument – and as a tax-payer – I am in favour of the idea that governments take an interest in the impact of their policies and programmes.
It is worthwhile remembering that the play sector has had its campaigning successes over the years. In my view, each step forward our sector has made has involved (amongst other things) diplomacy, compromise and a willingness to engage. If those of us who believe in the value of play do not get around the table with people in positions of power on behalf of children and young people and make our case, no-one else will. And who then will be the losers?