‘A situated ethos of playwork’ – a response from 2008

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In this critical response to Voce and Sturrock, Dr Pete KIng, highlighting a project from 2008, and his own study of it, suggests their proposals are nothing new, and that a greater emphasis is needed on the role of evidence-based research in developing playwork.

The recent paper by Voce and Sturrock (2018) offers five recommendation for playwork. Set within a political perspective, the five recommendations are: adopt a cohesive playwork narrative; make the policy case for children’s right to play; consolidate around a new professional body for playwork, review playwork training and qualifications and their infrastructure, renew alliances for the right to play and build a national campaign. Are these five recommendations offering anything new?

Let’s go back to 2008, the Possible Futures for Playwork project, funded by Play England and facilitated by the late Professor Perry Else. One aspect of the Possible Futures for Playwork Project asked the playwork field to propose an ‘ideas paper’ on how they see playwork progressing. In total 23 ‘ideas papers’ were submitted. Although the project did not conclude, a thematic analysis of the 23 ‘ideas papers’ (King, 2014) was undertaken and identified the following themes and sub-themes:

  • Theme: uniqueness of playwork; sub-themes: holistic development and playwork perspective of play
  • Theme: professionalism of playwork, professional body; educational and training reflective Practice
  • Theme: community based aspect of Playwork, subthemes: diversity of space and social interaction
  • Theme: relationship of playwork to ‘wider world’, subthemes: play policies/strategies and multi-professional work)
  • Theme: threats to playwork, subthemes: isolation, lack of ‘identity’ and Misunderstood).

(King, 2014)

The analysis of the 23 ‘ideas papers’ raised the following provocations for discussion:

How effective are play policies and strategies in promoting playwork to the ‘wider world’?

How relevant are the themes and sub-themes identified in this study (across each of the countries the UK?

How can playwork research be undertaken without a funding infrastructure, and what are the implications of playwork research for the professional status of playwork?

How can playwork still support what Sutton (2008) termed community cohesion in the future without the funding that was available in 2008?

How relevant are the playwork principles to playwork practice today?

How can the uniqueness of playwork support other professions and contexts where play takes place?

(King, 2014)

How do the themes and provocations from the 2008 Possible Futures for Playwork compare to the five recommendations from Voce and Sturrock (2018).

How effective are play policies and strategies in promoting playwork to the ‘wider world’?

Every country in the United Kingdom, as pointed out, except England, has a play policy or strategy. This paper has a narrow focus on England, and the defunct Play Strategy. No consideration of the other nations play policies and strategies are considered, especially for example Wales was the first country to have a play policy (2002) and strategy (2006). In addition, Wales has legislation in place for each of the 22 local authorities to undertake a Play Sufficiency Audit under the Children and Families (Wales) Measures (2010).

How relevant are the themes and sub-themes identified in this study (Possible Futures for Playwork Project) across each of the countries the UK?

If we take the five approaches suggested in this paper, we can map the themes and subthemes from the Possible Futures for Playwork Project:

Adopt a cohesive playwork narrative – uniqueness of playwork, playwork perspective of play

Make the policy case for children’s right to play – play policies and strategies

Consolidate around a new professional body for playwork – professionalism of playwork, professional body

Review playwork training and qualifications and their infrastructure – education and training

Renew alliances for the right to play – multi-professional work

Build a national campaign – lack of identity

It appears playworkers 10 years ago saw the future for playwork with similar aspirations to the five recommendations offered in this paper.

How can playwork research be undertaken without a funding infrastructure, and what are the implications of playwork research for the professional status of playwork?

The paper offers no consideration of playwork research, and how it can support both theory and practice. This is not addressed, rather it criticises on the one hand the small scale qualitative study undertaken for the Best Play (Children’s Play Council (CPC), National Playing Fields Association (NPFA) & PlayLink, 2000) publication, but in the final section fails to consider the role of research in developing playwork. For example, there is no recognition of developing evidence based research to support what playwork is, what playwork does and what playwork can possibly do.

How can playwork still support what Sutton (2008) termed community cohesion in the future without the funding that was available in 2008?

Rix’s (2018) response addresses the role of the community. Playwork takes place in a variety of contexts, not just adventure playgrounds, which this paper focuses on. The rise of the community play, for example play ranging, as well as different types of provision where playworkers work need more recognition, reflecting the Possible Futures for Playwork theme of community based aspect of playwork and the diversity of space and social interaction.

How relevant are the playwork principles to playwork practice today?

The position of the playwork principles (Playwork Principles Scrutiny Group (PPSG), 2005) are addressed briefly at the start, with an acknowledgment that any review would be welcome. What the playwork principles do not specifically state is the right to play, although Conway (2008) explains this in his chapter within ‘Foundations in Playwork’ (Brown & Taylor, 2008). The promotion of the right to play within this paper is clearly stated, but the lack of acknowledgment of how others who have been raising this, long before the Possible Futures for Playwork Project, are not recognised (for example Shier’s 1995 publication of Article 31 and how playworkers can support children’s right to play).

Are these five recommendations offering anything new?

Dr Pete King

You can access a free open access copy of the Possible Futures for Playwork Project – A Thematic Analysis at https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa25050

References:

Brown, F. & Taylor, C. (2008). Foundations of Playwork. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Children’s Play Council, National Playing Fields Association & PlayLink (2000). Best Play: What Play Provision Should Do for Children accessed at http://www.freeplaynetwork.org.uk/pubs/bestplay.pdf.

Conway, M. (2008). The Playwork Principles. In F. Brown & C. Taylor (Eds.) (2008) Foundations of Playwork (pp. 119-122). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

King, P. (2014). The Possible Futures for Playwork project – a thematic analysis. Journal of Playwork Practice, 2(2), 143-156.

Rix, S. (2018). Colleagues, Community and Commons – Our Vital Triumvirate accessed at https://playworkfoundation.org/2018/07/13/colleagues-community-and-commons-our-vital-triumverate/.

Shier, H. (Ed.) (1995). Article 31 Action Pack: Children’s rights and children’s play. Birmingham: Play-Train.

Voce & Sturrock (2018). A Situated Ethos of Playwork – Turning the Playwork Story Into a Narrative for Change accessed at https://playworkfoundation.org/2018/06/20/a-situated-ethos-of-playwork/.

Welsh Assembly Government (2002). Welsh Government Play Policy accessed at https://gov.wales/dcells/publications/policy_strategy_and_planning/early-wales/playpolicy/playpolicye.pdf?lang=en.

Welsh Assembly Government (2006). Play Policy Implementation Plan accessed at https://gov.wales/dcells/publications/policy_strategy_and_planning/early-wales/playpolicy/implementationplane.pdf?lang=en.

Welsh Government (2010). Children and Families (Wales) Measure accessed at https://www.legislation.gov.uk/mwa/2010/1/contents.

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