The Rule of Playground Incidents

Everything has a cost; we constantly have to evaluate estimates of cost before deciding on actions. Playtime arrangements are no different.

Coming back this term schools were told by DfE that they could ‘return to normal’ practices. Not that they had to, but that they could. Playtimes and lunchtimes were significantly altered during ‘lockdown’ periods and right across last academic year. Before we came back to school last month, we thoroughly examined how last year’s arrangements had worked, what impact they’d had on other aspects of school life nod made halfway house plans for our return.

Up until March 2020 we had two playtimes for all our pupils at the same time. There was a complicated system of rotas for accessing fixed play equipment and for staff supervision. Certain games only were allowed on certain days, and what was allowed on one playground was different to what was allowed on the other.

Lunchtime started with a 20 minute stagger with Y3 and Y5 starting ahead (and finishing ahead) of Y4 and Y6. Each September, with the new intake, we experienced long queues as the new Y3 children learnt how things worked.

One of the essential midday supervisor roles was to staff First Aid – there would be a dozen and more accidents each and every day, requiring TLC and more.

The control measures brought in in response to the pandemic meant separate play times for each year group, on a set playground. It meant a fixed plan for who could use what equipment and which end of each playground. At lunch we had four different start and end times, a shorter lunch break, specific seating in the hall and only one year group per playground (and only two classes at one end of each). We halved the number of children on each playground at any one time.

The outcome was striking – no virus transmission in school and, on a daily basis, the number of accidents and injuries dropped to zero. A First Aid post was simply unnecessary. Behaviour incidents also dropped significantly.

That was the benefit: the cost was a loss of outdoor PE (as the playgrounds were used for longer for play times / lunch), disturbance for Year 4 classes (with other year groups playing outside their classrooms), lost communication and contact for staff as lunch breaks no longer overlapped.

As we came back in September, we kept some elements from both systems, hoping to get the best of both, and introduced some changes. We have kept single year group playtimes, with a fixed playground, but taken away all restrictions on where, once there, the children can play. We have moved back to 15 minutes for each playtime (giving a bit of PE time back). We have removed the rotas, making life simpler. We have reverted to one stagger at lunchtime, but learnt to make it wider, in an attempt to remove the chafe of queueing. We no longer have to manage the dining room in the same way, so classes and year groups can mix at tables. However, we do have 25 minutes with all the children outside, and that means two year groups sharing each playground. That is 240 children, potentially, in each area. (We see a number ‘hiding’ elsewhere; we have a number indoors with staff.) We’ve also relaxed the control on play equipment – children are playing with more balls.

Accidents are back up to previous levels and First Aid is back in full demand. We are recording 12 or 13 bumps, bangs and bruises each lunchtime. Children and adults are getting, accidentally, hit with balls. More play equipment goes astray, is lost or gets damaged. Lost Property has doubled.

In Assembly, across next week, I will be asking children what they think about the current arrangements: are they happy to be able to move about more, to be able to play across classes, to have longer lunch breaks? Or do they miss the tighter organisation, the quieter playgrounds and the trugs of equipment?

The Official Rules (Paul Dickson)

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