An overview of playwork qualifications in the UK


Changes to the regulatory framework and a steep decline in services have led to a fragmented landscape for playwork training and qualifications in the UK. This briefing, produced in consultation with the four UK national play bodies, attempts to clarify the picture in each of the home nations.

If you would prefer to download this briefing as a pdf document please click here


 Since September 2014, there has no longer been a statutory requirement for out of school clubs and holiday playschemes registered on the Ofsted Early Years Register to employ staff with ‘full and relevant’ childcare or playwork qualifications. Providers who only take children over-8 years, or which are open access, have never been required to register (although they may do so voluntarily if they wish).

Together with the effect in England of cuts to local authority play services across, which in many places have been withdrawn altogether, this has meant that, despite the needs and wishes of the playwork sector – playworkers, playwork employers and commissioners – for trained and qualified staff, there is now very little funding for playwork qualifications.

Additionally, the funding available for playwork training providers has been for playwork apprenticeships, with the majority of smaller centres not eligible for it unless subcontracted by larger providers. Thus, a big proportion of the few larger centres or colleges that do offer playwork apprenticeships have often recruited trainers and assessors either not occupationally competent in playwork or with no experience of working to the Playwork Principles, or both. This has been difficult to challenge, as awarding bodies have not always supported external quality assurers who question centre staff’s competence.


The government is currently introducing more funding for apprenticeships through its Apprenticeship Levy, and awarding organisations are currently considering development of future playwork apprenticeships. Groups of playwork employers are currently making the case for the development of playwork apprenticeships to:

  1. Enable playwork employers to access apprenticeships;
  2. Develop the skills needed for quality playwork provision;
  3. Clarify what the playwork apprenticeships should cover; and
  4. Reinforce that they need to be delivered by trainers and assessors that are occupationally competent in playwork.

Northern Ireland

 Here, out of school clubs and holiday playschemes for children under 12 are required to register with their local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts, who are responsible for registering and inspecting all services with responsibility for children in sessional or full day care against the requirements laid down in the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The Minimum Standards for Child-minding and Day Care for Children Under Age 12 were developed to clarify the requirements contained in the legislation. The implementation guide for these standards can be read here.

All registered settings are required to have a Play Policy. The Play Policy should be underpinned by the Playwork Principles and recognise children’s capacity for development through play.

All leaders must have a current Safeguarding and Child Protection Certificate. If this is not the case, this must be achieved as part of the induction process and within one month of appointment. If the Leader is the Designated Child Protection Officer, evidence of certificated training must be in place prior to commencing duties.

The following qualifications have been agreed by DoH as those that meet the requirements for the Person in Charge/Leader and Deputy Leader role Out of School Clubs role:

  • BA Hons Degree in Early Childhood Studies, or Degree level qualification in Early Years or Playwork;
  • QCF level 5 Diploma in Children’s Care Learning and Development (Management) Wales/NI QCF;
  • QCF Level 5 Diploma in Playwork QCF;


  • a relevant occupational qualification in early years’ education, social work, nursing, youth work, teaching or health visiting;


  • 2 years’ experience working in a play, education, youth or day care setting. Volunteer experience can be included providing it is with the same age group relevant to the setting.

All staff and volunteers working directly with children must complete a minimal three-hour, face-to-face, formal certificated Safeguarding/Child Protection course every three years. (It is currently a requirement of the Safeguarding Board of Northern Ireland that training must be face to face). All staff and volunteers must have a valid Safeguarding/Child Protection certificate at all times.

All group-based services must have at least one person identified as a Designated Officer for Safeguarding. In full day care this should be a member of staff. In sessional care this should be a named individual. Designated officers must have a current certificate for Designated Officer Training valid for three years. All managers must have a current Safeguarding and Child Protection Certificate. If this is not the case, this must be achieved as part of the induction process and within one month of appointment. If the Manager is the Designated Child Protection Officer, evidence of certificated training must be in place prior to commencing duties.

Leaders or supervisors should have at least a qualification at QCF Level 3 Diploma in Child Care, Learning and Development or Playwork. Where staff members in any setting have previously attained Level 2, 3 or 5 NVQ qualifications in Playwork or Early Years Care and Education, this will be an acceptable alternative to QCF Diplomas.

Where staff members in any settings have previously attained Level 2, 3 or 5 NVQ qualifications in Playwork or Early Years Care and Education, this will be an acceptable alternative to the QCF Diplomas. 50% of all staff must hold at least a level 2 qualification. Staff members are, however, encouraged to progress their knowledge and skills through continuous professional development, which may be attained by both short courses and accredited qualifications. The Transitional Award in Playwork is also available for those already qualified with a level 3 CCLD.

Most qualifications are self-funded, although means-tested grants are available at Level 3 and Level 5 to those who do not hold a qualification at the same, or higher level. One college offers full-time Level 2 and Level 3 courses, so these are free as long as students attend 3 mornings a week and either have, or will complete, either GCSE Maths and English, or an Essential Skills Level 2 in Numeracy and Literacy. Some funding is available at all levels through bursaries or local community funds. Some training organisations offer Playwork at Level 2 under the ‘Training for Success’ programme.


The Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales (CSSIW) has National Minimum Standards for Regulated Childcare in Wales, covering settings providing for children up to age 12. The leader in charge must have at least a level 3 qualification recognised by the Care Council for Wales’ through its current list of Accepted Qualifications for the Early Years and Childcare Workforce in Wales or Skillsactive’s Integrated Qualification Framework for Playwork. At least 50% of the rest of the staff must have at least a recognised Level 2 qualification.

In 2015, a Level 3 Award in Managing a Holiday Play Scheme (MAHPS) was developed by Play Wales. This provides a qualification that has been added to the SkillsActive List of Required Qualifications to work within the Playwork Sector in Wales, specifically for persons in charge of a holiday play scheme.

Where the person in charge of a holiday playscheme does not hold a Level 3 Playwork qualification, but does hold another relevant qualification at level 3 (e.g. youth work, teaching, childcare), gaining the MAHPS award meets the requirements for registration. In the first instance this was envisaged as an interim qualification. However, discussions are continuing with a view to removing the current time constraint.

This award was developed because a significant proportion of holiday play providers were experiencing difficulties in meeting the qualification requirements set out in the NMS for the Person in Charge holding a level 3 Playwork qualification. These difficulties in accessing qualified staff have contributed to a reduction in registered holiday play provision and concerns remain about further loss of provision

Several years ago, Play Wales also developed – at levels 2 and 3 – Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in Playwork Principles into Practice (P³), including substantial materials for learners. It has however been a challenge in recent years to deliver these, due to funding arrangements that favour the apprenticeship route. In the meantime the Level 3 Diploma (NVQ) in Playwork available in England and Northern Ireland has been available; more recently as an apprenticeship, although this has not been widely accessed, as the number of playwork jobs has diminished.

A number of providers across Wales also had difficulties in meeting the standard of qualifying half their staff at Level 2 or above, and so many of these had reduced their opening hours to under two hours to avoid registration. A new level 2 qualification called the Award in Playwork Practice (L2APP) has just been developed and considered suitable to meet registration requirements on its’ own for non-supervisory staff working on holiday playschemes.

This will also serve the purpose of a transitional qualification for those with a level 2 childcare qualification (CCLD), to help providers move forward. This award is offered through Agored Cymru, a Welsh awarding body, and can additionally be used as good practice continuing professional development, for those in other sectors who wish to further their understanding and perhaps occasional practice of playwork. Agored Cymru is not confined to Welsh learners only – there is the potential for training providers in England to consider its delivery.

In addition, Wales is currently developing a new CCLDP (Children’s Care, Learning and Development and Play) which will include some content on play and an understanding of the playwork approach – this is to be ready by September 2019. It will not act as a qualification for those in playwork roles but will ensure that new childcare learners get a basic grounding in playwork principles.


In Scotland, out of school care services are registered with, and regulated by, the Care Inspectorate against the same national care standards as other daycare of children services, such as nurseries.

Out of school care staff are registered with, and regulated by, the Scottish Social Services Council; in accordance with legislation, managers of out of school care services must either be qualified to, or working towards a degree level qualification in Childhood Practice. This is the same requirement as that for managers of other daycare of children services.

The registration categories are linked to job function, which is, in turn, linked to qualifications. Scotland has its own credit and qualifications framework (SQCF), which is considerably different in terminology, levels and grading. Currently a support worker would register with the SVQ Level 2 Playwork or National Progression Award. A Playwork Practitioner would register with an SVQ Level 3 Playwork or an HNC with Playwork options.

A Lead Practitioner/Manager in Playwork would register with an SVQ Level 4 Playwork, in the first instance leading to a SCQF Level 9 qualification such as the PDA Childhood Practice at SCQF Level 9 or a BA in Childhood Practice. (Please view the SSSC web site to view further qualifications linked to registration requirements). The Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Framework Active Leisure and Wellbeing at level 2 and level 3 also has a pathway for Playwork.

Ali Wood


Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), 2015, UK implementation of the Convention On The Rights Of The Child: Civil society alternative report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, England, London: CRAE

UK National Play Organisations

For further information about playwork training and qualifications in any of the UK home nations, please contact the relevant national body:

Play England                                
Playboard Northern Ireland    
Play Scotland                                
Play Wales                                     

Join the discussion

Play England will be hosting a discussion at the National Playwork Conference in Eastbourne on 7th-8th March for all those interested and/or concerned about the future of playwork qualifications. If you are a playwork employer and can lend your support, please contact


Adventure playgrounds are too important to consign to history

Eran at Glamis

A variety of recent projects in the arts, heritage and academic sectors have taken adventure playgrounds as their theme, bringing welcome attention to this important part of the UK play scene. However, cautions Adrian Voce, it would be a mistake, and a missed opportunity, if the surge of interest were to be predominantly nostalgic or historical.

Over the last year or so, adventure playgrounds in the UK seem to have become the subject of wider than usual attention far beyond the usual play and playwork sectors. In truth, this swell of interest is around an accumulation of separate projects and initiatives, which have each either come to fruition, or have been launched, with attendant publicity, around the same time.

Perhaps the most high profile of these, certainly in terms of popular culture, is no less than a brand new stage musical. The Lockleaze adventure playground in Bristol, known locally simply as ‘The Vench’, is both the subject and the setting for an original new comedy-musical, described by the Bristol Post as ‘a wildly funny and vivid new production about a miscreant group of Bristolian misfit teenagers who come together to build an adventure playground’. Junkyard will open on 24 February at Bristol’s Old Vic theatre.

Sharing memories

The Vench was also one of a number of adventure playgrounds in the West of England cities of Bristol and Gloucester, recently mined by researchers for the memories that they have inspired and bequeathed to their local communities. Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds (SMAP) was a research project of the University of Gloucestershire (featured recently on these pages here) that beautifully conveyed, through an exhibition, a film and a short report, the unique role that places like the Vench can play in the lives of successive generations of communities, and the value they hold for neighbourhoods where there may not otherwise be much that children can call their own.

Elsewhere in England, researchers and curators at the Queen Mary, University of London and the V&A’s Museum of Childhood respectively are also collaborating on an exciting new initiative on the social history of London’s adventure playgrounds. Adventures in the City: the politics and practice of children’s adventure play in urban Britain, 1955–97 is a funded PhD project that began last year and will culminate in a new, interactive, permanent exhibition (an adventure playground, one presumes – as much as such a thing is possible within this context) at the museum’s popular Bethnal Green site in East London.

One hears of other doctorates that have identified adventure playgrounds and their history as a subject ripe for researching (e.g. Shelly Newstead’s paper at Child in the City 2014). There are other artistic ventures too. Mark Neville’s recently opened exhibition of photographs on the theme of ‘Child’s Play’ chooses adventure playgrounds as the setting for what it describes as ‘play in free space’. Neville juxtaposes his commanding images of children very much taking their space in some of London’s adventure playgrounds with those of children in less sympathetic contexts: the ‘structured space’ of school, and the ‘oppressed space’ of war and poverty.

‘Fulfilling childhood’

2015 saw the release of a short documentary film by Erin Davis ‘about the nature of play, risk and hazard’ set in The Land, an adventure playground in North Wales. ‘The Land’, as the documentary is also called, was described by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic as a film that ‘will change everything you think you believe … In scene after natural scene the truth becomes obvious: With a little bit of creativity, empathy and guidance, children can be freed to experience a much more fun, adventurous and fulfilling childhood.’

This kind of exposure and recognition for a form of provision that perennially struggles on meagre budgets and – with some rare exceptions – little support from their local authorities, can only be welcome. It is important too, that both academia and the heritage sector are taking adventure playgrounds seriously as the subject of both research and cultural archive.

img_3779Nevertheless, play advocates may also feel a little uneasy that so much of this attention is from an historical perspective. It is more than implied in this approach that adventure playgrounds today, if not quite anachronistic, are certainly an ‘endangered species’, as Dr. Wendy Russell acknowledged at the launch of the SMAP project last month. She estimates that there are no more than 150 remaining in the UK – and that not all of these are necessarily adventure playgrounds in the original sense of the term – compared to more than 500 in their 70s heyday.

Sense of community

Exploring the reason for this decline needs an article (or a PhD!) all to itself, but as Mark Neville’s exhibition and its accompanying book assert, Erin Davis’ film so eloquently conveys and the children past and present of Bristol and Gloucester’s adventure playgrounds say for themselves, the unique experience of playful community that is given to children in a proper adventure playground, is too vital to be merely the subject of a museum piece.

These supported spaces to play – with materials large and small, with the elements, and with the full spectrum of human curiosity, invention, and interaction – protected from the future focused, outcomes-obsessed world of adult-laid plans and rules for them, enrich the lives of the children who attend them. That this is in ways that are difficult to measure within the reductionist outcomes frameworks now routinely applied to public services should not, but inevitably often does, make it difficult to make the case that modern Britain needs more, not fewer adventure playgrounds.

We must hope that, far from ushering them towards the door marked ‘cultural artefact’, researching the history of adventure playgrounds, exhibiting them in museums and celebrating them through the arts will alert a new generation of advocates, policymakers and funders to their unique value to children and communities now.

Adrian Voce

Photos: Eran at Glamis Adventure Playground in 2016, and Glamis’ rules, by Adrian Voce

*this article’s final two paragraphs were edited for clarity on 23 February.

Sharing memories of ‘endangered’ adventure playgrounds

The University of Gloucestershire has launched the report, and a short film, of its Sharing Memories of Adventure Playgrounds (SMAP) research project. The project worked with adventure playgrounds in the cities of Bristol and Gloucester to gather memories of those involved – as children, staff, families and communities – over their history, in order to explore their value; but the project also shines a spotlight on the decline in the number of UK adventure playgrounds, and their ongoing insecurity.

Adventure playgrounds are a specific form of play provision generally catering for children aged 5-15 years of age, with local variations. Their received history tells how they were first introduced into the UK in the late 1940s by Lady Allen of Hurtwood after her visit to the junk playground in Emdrup, Copenhagen. These facilities sprung up in urban spaces left by wartime bombs, using waste materials, tools and the permissive supervision of a playworker to create spaces where children could build play structures, make dens, use tools, have fires and generally engage in outdoor play. Largely developed and run by voluntary organisations, such seemingly anarchic and chaotic spaces were welcomed by the authorities as an effective response to the rise in delinquency amongst working-class boys.

Over the last 70 or so years, these playgrounds have had a chequered history. At times adventure playgrounds have been well funded because of their perceived social and economic benefits (instrumental value), at others less so. Alongside this, the ethos and practices of adventure playgrounds in the UK have both affected and been affected by the zeitgeist, theory and social policy paradigms. From an estimated 500 in operation across the UK in the 1970s, their decline to less than 150 today (many of which no longer operate wholeheartedly according to the original principles) has been attributed to a number of socio-legal changes, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1975, the Children Act 1989, the introduction of out of school childcare and now unprecedented public expenditure cuts.

‘Critical cartography’

This trans-disciplinary project held events at each of the playgrounds and recorded these using video, audio and the work of artists. It was funded by both the Being Human and Sport, Exercise, Health and Wellbeing Research Priority Areas at the University of Gloucestershire. It drew on concepts from post-qualitative research methodologies, memory studies, geography, philosophy and policy. It aimed to develop a ‘critical cartography’ as a different way of articulating the value of adventure playgrounds that can be used to inform future policy.

There is plenty of evidence showing the benefits of play for children, but less showing the benefits of play provision. What does exist tends to show the instrumental value of adventure playgrounds and playwork in terms of its capacity to address social policy concerns such as reducing physical inactivity and obesity, crime reduction, or community cohesion. These are important, and at the same time the desire to show measurable benefits in this way obscures other ways of expressing value. The creative methods we used looked to show how much these spaces mattered to those involved.

“Adventure playgrounds are an endangered species”

Dr. Wendy Russell

At the launch of the SMAP project, with an exhibition at the University’s Oxstalls campus on 27 January, the Mayor of Gloucester, Councillor Neil Hampson highlighted the huge value of the city’s adventure playgrounds to successive generations of local communities and decried the austerity policies that was placing them at risk. Dr. Wendy Russell, for the research team, said they were an ‘endangered species’, which needed to be documented while they were still in existence.

Adrian Voce

Illustration: Mick Conway (from original artwork produced for the project)
Photo: Bristol Daily News

As well as the exhibition, the project has produced a film, which can be viewed here and a short report, available here. If you would like to host the exhibition, please contact the research team at