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Policy for Children’s Play Provision

Election Briefing

It has been established at a national policy level since the introduction of the Every Child Matters policy framework (2003) and the subsequent Children Act (2004), that enjoying informal play and recreation has a vital role in supporting children’s development, enhancing their learning, improving their physical fitness and cultivating the all-important resilience and adaptability that leads to improved outcomes.

Recent research commissioned by the Children’s Play Policy Forum has found empirical evidence to confirm that children’s ‘play initiatives lead to improvements in children’s physical and mental health and well-being, and are linked to a range of other cognitive and social developmental benefits … Supervised out-of-school (play) provision’ in particular is ‘linked to increases in levels of physical activity and in children’s levels of well-being’.[1]

Yet, since 2010, children’s play provision – staffed services in particular – have been disproportionately reduced in a large number of areas, due to pressures on local authority budgets and the abandonment of the national Play Strategy for England.

A recent report of an All Party Parliamentary Group on children’s health, recognising the vital role of play provision in combating childhood obesity and other ailments of modern childhood, like attention deficit disorder, has called for ‘a new legal duty on public health bodies to work with schools and local government to ensure that all children have access to suitable play opportunities, within close proximity to their home and at school; guidance on including play within Local Development Plans; and training and guidance in the enablement of free play for all professionals with responsibility for children, including Ofsted’. Most significantly, the APPG is calling for a statutory duty on local authorities to provide for play as part of a new national play strategy, which the Children’s Play Policy Forum, which advises the government on play policy, is recommending should be underpinned by at least £750m over the next Parliament – a sum equivalent to that currently ear-marked for youth sport.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), to which the UK is a signatory, protects children’s right to play under its Article 31. In 21013 the UN issued a General Comment on this article, clarifying that it places governments under obligation to undertake whatever action may be necessary ‘to make available all necessary services, provision and opportunities aimed at facilitating the full enjoyment of children’s rights (to play and leisure) and that even where there are ‘problems arising from limited resources, there is an obligation to strive to ensure the widest possible enjoyment of the relevant rights under the prevailing circumstances’.

The Playwork conference would like to hear from parties’ candidates about how they will respond in policy terms to the crisis in playwork provision that has arisen from the unprecedented scale of recent cuts, and the impact that this is having on children.

[1]Gill, T., The Play Return, Children’s Play Policy Forum, London (2014).
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