Mucky – the conflict between active play, keeping clean, scrapes and grazes, and limited cash resources

It has been about five years since we invested heavily (for us), and used a tidy grant from a sport-promoting charity, to carpet and equip our lower playground.

It has been a huge success overall; the drawbacks and negatives exist, but on balance a huge success. We have reduced injuries hugely, with relatively few children ever scraping the skin off their knee or needing to wash gravel out of a cut. PE is a much better quality, especially ball / invasion games where the bounce is truer and control is easier to apply. The goals and nets allow (and enable) a wider and continuous range of games and sports, without daily transport of heavy equipment. The carpet very nearly makes all-weather and all-year use possible. The three storage units mean we have balls, bibs, bats, sticks, cones, markers and racquets all to hand. The posts are secure and safe, and are seldom ever an obstacle. We saw pupil engagement increase immediately, and it has remained at that enhanced level until now.

We do face problems, however, and one of these leads me to apologise to parents; your children frequently come home dirty – legs and clothes – from playing at break or in lessons on the lower playground. The surface is now clogged with silt and broken-down leaves to the extent that any ball bounced on the surface rebounds with muck attached. This means dirty hands, legs and faces, and dirty shirts, trousers, shoes and tops. I have been teaching Y5 and Y6 PE this half term (basketball and football units), and I have to admit that getting dirty has been inevitable if you engage at all in the lesson. I had to wash my trainers as well as the trousers and top I was wearing on Thursday morning.

We have been aware of the particular issue all term, and have investigated potential solutions. We guessed at possible approaches, then thought better of wading in and so took professional advice. It is not looking good / easy / cheap to solve.

1: Sweep it off – comes with the risk of damaging the carpet, and does not address the problem that the silt is ingrained. Sweeping, whether by hand or mechanically, would only do the surface muck. We looked at hiring commercial pitch cleaning equipment to do this.

2: Wash it off – it was suggested we could use a industrial-scale carpet cleaner effectively; it would spray the surface and suck up the mess. This would, we believe (and on advice) only add to the current wet mess.

3: Cover it with tonnes of new, clean sand – which would, we are told, simply mix with the mess and give a very temporary period of improvement only.

4: Spray the surface with a compound that is used to protect outdoor surfaces such as tennis courts – unfortunately only suitable for painted concrete surfaces.

5: Lift it all off, disposing of the current carpet and all the underlying bedding-in sand (and polluting silt / muck), install drainage all round the edge of the playground, and at several key points across the playground, resurface with a suitable play surface. Impossibly expensive – we suspect we cannot afford the removal alone, as shifting tonnes of carpet, silt and sand will take considerable work hours and much machinery (and a fair few skips). We simply do not have that sort of money, but we do appreciate that we have, inadvertently, got ourselves into this position. A second grant, to make good what is going bad, is unlikely but we will investigate the possibility.

We are experiencing a wet period in the year that is exacerbating the problem, but we will have to address the issue seriously before too long. We must continue using the playground or lose half our playtimes, half our PE and half of our out of hours activities. So for now, I have to continue to apologise and beg your understanding.

If anyone does have expertise in the area, and a fund that would go most of the way to cover costs, we would really like to meet you.

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