Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Playgrounds Are between a Rock and a Hard Place

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why Playgrounds Are between a Rock and a Hard Place

Article excerpt

Pupil places crisis leaves schools short for outdoor facilities

The rising demand for primary places is forcing many schools to invest in chairs and desks at the expense of playground equipment, a survey suggests.

As the sector struggles to provide the hundreds of thousands of extra places that will be needed to cope with the population boom over the coming years, new research finds that few schools are spending money on outdoor play facilities.

While expenditure on classroom furniture rose by 13 per cent in 2013-14, almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of the schools polled describe their fixed play facilities as inadequate.

Out of almost 400 primaries answering the survey, 57 per cent say they are "well-provided for" in terms of classroom furniture; the same is true for just 14 per cent when it comes to playground equipment.

Headteachers have claimed that they are having to lead fundraising for new play equipment themselves, owing to the lack of capital funding available.

Budget constraints meant school leaders felt they must prioritise classroom equipment, said Caroline Wright, director of the British Educational Suppliers Association, which carried out the poll.

"While schools receive funding per pupil that can be used to fund these classroom essentials, it is often harder for them to allocate the budget needed for a one-off investment like outdoor play equipment against all the other pressures on school budgets," she added. "Yet given the growing problem with childhood obesity, it would be extremely unfortunate if fewer schools were able to provide their pupils with the chance to experience the joys of outdoor play."

The number of primary pupils in England has risen by 319,000 since 2010; by 2023, the overall primary population is predicted to increase by another 379,000. Earlier this year, the Local Government Association said the pressure on places was pushing schools to "breaking point".

Sue Addison, headteacher of Cavendish junior in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, is planning to raise £10,000 for facilities such as an assault course, a climbing frame and climbing walls. The school's playground currently has no fixed equipment.

"We want the best for [our pupils]," she said. "Children do need to be active. But obviously you have to make sure the building is safe and in the right order - you have to have chairs and desks to be able to teach them successfully. It is always a difficult balancing act. …

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