From values to counting: the apoliticisation of play (and much else)

One way of characterising the play sector, if indeed it constitutes a sector, is that it is apolitical and dependent, those two qualities interacting and exacerbating each other.

By apolitical, I mean that it has no obvious popular or voter support, nor is much attention directed towards securing it. Rather, the ‘sector’ concentrates its efforts on being persuasive within the established corridors of power. To gain leverage there the approach has been to follow the national and local state’s increasing reliance on reducing questions of value and principle into essentially technical matters, the clearest expression of this being the  reliance on suppositious ‘evidence’.

The other characteristic is dependency. By dependency I mean that the play sector is overwhelmingly reliant on national and local state funding, along with key charitable funders whose procedures and priorities so often mirror that of the state. There is a link between dependent status and the apolitical orientation of the play sector. Whilst it is the case that the sector can erupt in support of organisations and projects that are under threat, for the most part it is funded projects and organisations lobbying on behalf of projects and organisations that are structurally in the same position – dependent on external funding. A cynic might suggest that there is a strong sense of ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ pulsing beneath the surface of solidarity. However, that does not invalidate it. Continue reading

‘Slummy mummies’ – the overreach of schools

For the past couple of days the newspapers have been buzzing with a story summed up in this Daily Telegraph headline:

‘Head teacher tells parents to stop wearing pyjamas on school run’

The Daily Mail, rather more pointedly, talked about an ‘unrepentant slummy mummy’, referring to a mother who responded to the Headteacher’s letter by taking her child to school in red pyjamas decorated with snowflakes.

The story concerns the Skerne Park Academy’s Headteacher, Kate Chisholm, letter to parents that notices:

‘the increasing tendency of parents to escort their children to and from school while still wearing their pyjamas and, on occasion, even their slippers’.

She goes on to ask parents to:

‘take the time to dress appropriately in day wear suitable for the weather conditions’.

She continues:

‘While this may seem to some like a minor point, I am sure you will agree that it’s important for all of us to set our children a good example about what is appropriate and acceptable in all aspects of life…’.

She then thanks parents for their cooperation in helping ‘our’ children’s aspirations.

I’ll come back to the letter shortly. Continue reading

For its own sake – an end of year mull (of the non-alcoholic sort)

Looking back over the past, say, thirty years, future historians might think it distinctly queer that we have spent so much effort and time in promoting a view of play that is somewhat to the side of what we value, what we believe: that is, the non-instrumental value of play.

But who are ‘we’? ‘We’ are those who hold that play is its own justification, that it is an expression of, and initiation into an idea of freedom. That its outcome is itself. That it is a state of mind, a state of being.

It is that the player is sovereign in their own self-created world. Play may have instrumental value in the pursuit of extrinsic goals, but it may not; in any case there are plenty of other ways to achieve any amount of extrinsic goals that, really, play should not need to bother itself about that. Adherence to this way of thinking is beyond, or before, any evidence that might be adduced in its favour. Evidence here is redundant, this because for those holding the above as true and necessary, it is beyond refutation. Continue reading

When the evidence bites back

I quote:

For three-and-a-half years, all pupils at St Ninians primary have walked or run a mile each day. They do so at random times during the day, apparently happily, and despite the rise in childhood obesity across the UK, none of the children at the school are overweight.

The daily mile has done so much to improve these children’s fitness, behaviour and concentration in lessons that scores of nursery and primary schools across Britain are following suit and getting pupils to get up from their desks and take 15 minutes to walk or run round the school or local park.‘  The Guardian Monday 28 September.

The scheme was introduced by the now retired Headteacher, Elaine Wyllie. In an interesting interview on the Today Programme  (6 November. The interview starts at 2.43.32, near the end of the programme) she filled out more details of the scheme: Continue reading

Come on, it’s not so bad – the APPG report on play

It’s true, the recent report on play by the All-Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood would have benefited from some judicious editing and organising in terms of structure and length. True, too, that there are points where it veers off in directions that some might feel are not entirely consistent with other points it seeks to make.

But if you’re of a mind that repetition of one’s cardinal beliefs is evidence of their veracity, this may be the report for you. For not a page goes by where one is not reminded that, truly, play is a wondrous thing – as activity; as state of mind; as scourge of obesity epidemics; as generator of formal educational achievement – capable of generating every kind of benefit. No slouch, either, this report, for it takes care to reference the basis of its analysis and conclusions.

Nevertheless, disappointment has been expressed about what is considered a missed opportunity. Adrian Voce, in his considered response to the report, offers a succinct and clear account from this perspective, acknowledging at the same time that there is some good stuff in it. Continue reading

Discordant harmony

From a simple humanitarian perspective, it’s easy to be outraged at some countries’ response to the current refugee crisis. The UK’s response is, I think, simply shameful. And, once again, from a straightforwardly humanitarian view, Hungary’s response is both cruel and brutal. These sentiments are easy to feel, and as easy to express.

But from a different perspective, the ‘refugee crisis’ throws light on some of the fault lines inherent in, and dangers attending, the project known as the European Union (EU) as currently conceived.

The EU has as one of its core aims the ‘Harmonisation’ of policies and practices across its member states. Though a term used in particular in respect of trade relations – the aim of removing trade ‘barriers’ – it is applicable to a wide swath of policies agreed or imposed on its members.

Interesting word ‘harmonisation’. The image it conjures, and no doubt is designed to evoke, is that of unity, one formed of divergent tones, pitches, individual and unique features to become, as the dictionary has it, ‘in agreement’, ‘justly proportioned’, ‘concordant’, ‘congruous’. Continue reading

A conversation about Play England’s future – an invitation to all

A conversation about Play England’s future – an invitation to all

We are asking individuals and organisations to circulate this letter to your mailing lists and contacts.

At Play England’s recent meeting entitled ‘Children’s Play – The Challenge Ahead’, a significant number of people agreed that now was the time to generate a wide-ranging discussion about PE’s future role, this discussion also to consider how PE should go about its business. The emphasis was very much on looking forward in an open minded and mutually supportive way, aware of past and current initiatives and programmes, but not to be governed by these.

This is not a meeting called by PE. It is an informal initiative generated by one of the discussion groups at the ‘Challenge Ahead’ meeting. It will only develop if those committed to children’s and teenagers’ play (PE members and non-members alike) engage with it. The intention is to try and create a space for open-ended dialogue, a chance for all of us, PE trustees and staff included, to think beyond organisational interests to broader questions. We have been in discussion with PE trustees about this series of discussions and they are positive about the initiative and keen to participate.

This letter aims simply to take matters to the next stage. It is an invitation to all those committed to children’s and teenagers’ right to play to join a series of discussions about PE and its prospective future. This initiative is rooted in the commitment to encourage a more open and diverse engagement with the key questions that face us. The formal positions PE might come to as the result of the discussions are a matter for it to decide through its due processes.

Play England is now independent, meaningfully in control of its own future. The signatories of this letter acknowledge that the transition to independence has not been easy and value the ongoing hard work put in by voluntary committee members and staff during the transition and beyond. As a matter of fact, it is important to recognise that the resources (both financial and human) available to PE are currently minimal.

Some of the discussion themes to have emerged thus far include, but are not limited to:

  • In what way, and by what means, can independent, dispassionate thought and talk be encouraged?
  • How can play organisations, supporters and stakeholders work better together and support each other in the current political environment? How can we support each other?
  • Should more reliance be placed on individuals to make voluntary commitments of time and energy to carry forward thinking and action in respect of play in England?  Is it realistic to do so?  (Ask not what Play England can do for you, but what you can do for play in England!).
  • If ‘yes’ to the above, how might this be achieved, and what should be the relation between this voluntary endeavour and PE?
  • How might PE and its supporters campaign on behalf of children’s play, and how might the diverse policy and commitment streams in the area of play be more fruitfully, more cohesively, inter-connected?
  • How might PE and its supporters better reflect the diversity of England’s population?
  • Is there a need to make a decisive break with thinking that assumes progress can be made only if PE is externally funded?
  • To what extent, if any, should PE involve itself in direct service delivery?
  • How might more effective alliances be formed with non-play specific organisations, groupings and campaigns that nevertheless affect the practical realisation of the right to play?
  • What are the major themes/issues ‘play’ should be addressing?

The intention is to hold a series of informal discussions with those who respond to this invitation.  The first step is for those who would like to be involved in the discussions to respond to this email with your contact details, briefly stating any points or issues you would like to see raised.  The discussion topics will be determined by those participating as will decisions about location(s).

It needs to be stressed that this initiative is entirely unfunded and can only be carried forward with the active support of those who wish to participate. This includes, for example, such practical matters as securing no-cost venues, and perhaps building up a modest ‘petty cash’ fund that can help pay travel costs for those who need some help with travelling expenses.

Please note that the signatories of this letter are in no sense leaders of this initiative, their current role being limited to formulating this invitation, accepting and sharing the responses. What happens thereafter will need to emerge in the light of the responses received.

We hope that sufficient responses will have been received by Wednesday 30 September for respondents to then decide next moves.

We look forward to hearing from you. You can respond, saying whether or not you would be interested in participating in such a conversation, and any other thoughts you might have about timing, venue, process, content, etc. Please respond to either or both of us by email (below) to register your interest in participating.

Bernard Spiegal (info@playlink.org.uk)
Wendy Russell (wendyrussell@ntlworld.com)

 Please note that leaving a comment does not consttitute acceptance of this invitation. To do that, please respond directly to one or both of the email addresses above. Thank you.