Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Where the Walls Are Closing in on Playtime

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Where the Walls Are Closing in on Playtime

Article excerpt

Primaries sacrifice outdoor space to alleviate school places crisis

Tens of thousands of primary children in England are being deprived of space to play because the school places crisis has forced councils to build on playgrounds and playing fields, a TES investigation reveals.

One play expert said the findings showed that the government placed "very little value" on children's playtimes; another called on schools to do "whatever they could" to preserve play spaces - by creating roof gardens, for example.

Information on expansion plans in 82 local authorities shows that 35 per cent of schools that have recently expanded or are due to expand will end up with less outdoor space for children. A further 54 per cent will not lose playing space but will have more pupils using the same area. Just 11 per cent of schools will be able to increase pupil numbers while also providing more playing space.

The number of children in England's schools has been increasing since 2010 and continues to do so because of immigration and a rising birth rate. In April this year, the government published figures showing that 211,930 primary school places were created between 2009 and 2012. Another 299,190 are expected to be available by the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

David Burchett, operations manager of play charity Learning through Landscapes, said access to outside space was "incredibly important" and schools needed to preserve it. "If a child can't run in a straight line because 400 other children are in their way, where are they releasing that energy?" he asked. "Children need space. We appreciate that some schools are on restricted sites, but they should do whatever they can.

"It would be unacceptable to say, 'Right let's fit 60 children into a classroom where there's room for 30.' "

Schools often wanted to cooperate with local authorities, Mr Burchett said, but if expansion meant that current pupils would suffer then governors had a responsibility to resist and demand more land. He described a visit to a "horrendous" school site that had a "9ft or 10ft wall around tarmac", adding: "We were chatting to a boy who said, 'It makes you feel like you're in a prison.' "

Tim Gill, former director of Play England and a leading commentator on childhood, said: "This is a reflection of what we know already, that educators and government place very little value on school grounds and on children's playtimes and lunchtimes. …

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