Let's Play the Game for Our Childrens' Sakes
Byline: Jonathan Walker Education Correspondent
It's the place where friendships are made and broken, the latest trading cards are swapped and epic football games take place.
For many pupils, what happens in the school playground can have as great an effect on their development as anything that goes on in the classroom. Yet it often it consists no more than a bleak patch of Tarmac and some faded markings.
In recent years, schools have been working to change this. Scientific method has gone into playground design, studies of the games children play have determined which ones encourage social behaviour, and playtime assistants are treated as valuable members of staff with full training
Theresa Jones is Birmingham education authority's play-time guru. As the training and development officer with responsibility for lunchtime supervisors, she has visited dozens of schools to offer advice on perfecting the lunch hour.
She said: 'One of my aims is to make break time a pleasant experience, so that children look forward to it.
'Problems at break, such as disagreements or fights, spill over in to the rest of the day and teachers have to waste their time sorting it out.'
To this end, the design of playgrounds is changing. Layouts are drawn up following research into the way children behave - for example, open spaces encourage social behaviour whereas an area with plenty of corners and hideaways can lead to bullying.
Many playgrounds are split into zones - so there might be an area with benches where pupils can read quietly, for example. Others might contain climbing equipment, or even cycling tracks.
And the most popular game is usually restricted. Traditionally, most playgrounds have been taken over by gangs of boys swarming around a football, or a battered tennis ball used in its place.
The problem with this, even today, is that girls are generally excluded - as are those boys who would rather do something else.
Many schools are now answering this by restricting football - for example, telling pupils they can play it twice a week but must find something else to do on the other three days. …