A word in your ear: Sharing dismay

It’s been ringing in my ear recently.  Like a tune stuck in one’s head, endlessly repeating itself. ‘Disciplinary society’, those are the words, that’s the discordant, repeating, tune.

And the flipside of discipline, is punishment; or, in the more mealy-mouth words of official-speak, the flipside of discipline is ‘sanction’. In practical terms this is a distinction without a difference as anyone who has been sanctioned is likely to tell you. If it looks like a punishment, if it feels like a punishment, then it’s punishment.

And as a society we seem to be getting better and better at creating occasions to threaten and impose punishment or sanction.

Why do I mention this now? It’s simply that over the past couple of weeks or so a few seemingly disparate experiences crossed my path, and, not for the first time, I realised I was seeing a pattern, a system in fact, and not a series of random coincidences. I’d noticed it before and I’m pretty sure that you have to. No claim to novelty here, this is about sharing dismay. Continue reading

After Standards’ reform: The sunny uplands of possibility?

As a topic of conversation, the role and scope of play equipment and surfacing standards[1] may appear somewhat dry and technical, a bit of a turn-off.  But consider this:

  • The playground equipment and surfacing industry here in the UK has an estimated annual turnover in the order of £170m – £200m, a significant proportion of which is in effect funded by taxpayers and charitable funders.  Question has to be: Does that spend represent value for money, is it doing the best possible work for children’s play opportunities?
  • And a wider question: Are decisions about the detail of play provision spending lodged in the right hands?   Is decision-making about play provision well-balanced, or askew?

Those latter questions should counter the notion that questions about standards are merely dry and technical.  In this article I speculate as to what benefits might flow from a rationalisation of play equipment and surfacing standards. Continue reading

Standards: Time for reform?

It’s often hard to predict what will generate an active interest in an issue.  The issue may have been around for a good deal of time, indeed may have been a source of worry or irritation but, somehow, the matter appears impenetrable, difficult to grasp.

Such, arguably,  is how many play provision providers have felt and still feel about playground equipment and surfacing standards.   Decisions are promulgated, they seem to bear a stamp of authority, yet there is a persistent sense of disconnect between decision-makers, and those affected by their pronouncements.  The relevance of standards[1] is asserted by the bodies that generate them, but in many of the settings affected by them, there is doubt.  Such doubts hitherto have been muted, not channelled or organised, or, indeed, been the subject of much debate.

We may, however, be witnessing a change.  We may be experiencing by those affected by standards a nascent sense of empowerment.  The sense that if current arrangements for generating standards are perpetuated,  then bad decisions will continue to made.  That what is required, is a fundamental rethink about standards, the values that inform them, the structures and the processes that generate them.  It is, as I say, a nascent sense of empowerment, not by any means fully formed.  Continue reading

Observations on Impact Attenuation Criteria for Playground Surfaces by Professor David Ball

I reprint in full an important and helpful paper by David Ball, Professor of Risk Management at the Centre for Decision Analysis and Risk Management. The paper, ‘Observations on Impact Attenuation Criteria for Playground Surfaces, discusses some of the questions and tensions that inevitably arise whenever risk management decisions need to be made.

The paper – prompted by the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) proposal to revise downwards the Head Impact Criterion for playground impact absorbing surfacing – is of wide relevance in that it sets out a way of thinking about risk in the context of wider social policy goals. I urge anyone involved in making decisions about children and teenagers’ play and learning to read the succinct and clear paper that follows.

The paper has been sent to ASTM.

Centre for Decision Analysis and Risk Management

 OBSERVATIONS ON IMPACT ATTENUATION CRITERIA FOR PLAYGROUND SURFACING

David J. Ball, Professor of Risk Management, 

Centre for Decision Analysis and Risk Management

Background

1.  This note is prompted by a proposition, originating from the ASTM in the USA but which was also considered by CEN in Europe in 2014, to revise the Head Impact Criterion (HIC) for playground impact absorbing surfacing (IAS) downwards from 1,000 to 700. The stated aim is primarily to reduce the risk of brain injury from headfirst falls to the ground, though some also refer to a reduced risk of long bone fractures as another benefit.

2.  Although on the face of it the proposition sounds entirely rational it is a cause of controversy. On the one hand, in support of the proposition, there is evidence from road traffic accidents and other non-play environments that children may sustain brain injury at a HIC of 1,000 or less. For some this immediately implies that action is needed in all settings where children are potentially at risk of head injury. On the other hand, there is concern that an intervention of this nature might have significant and unintended consequences for play provision with knock-on implications for overall child welfare because play is an essential constituent of growing up.

3.  Both concerns are legitimate. It can be assumed that all parties want the best for children, but it has not been agreed how this is to be achieved. This discord might be attributable to deficiencies in communication between the parties involved. The situation does indeed appear to resemble a classic stand-off between parties who seek the same ultimate goal – the welfare of children and young people – but approach it from different perspectives. Continue reading

ASTM surfacing proposal – opposition mounting

In this brief post I can do no better than direct your attention to the joint open letter to the ASTM committee by the Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, Robin Sutcliffe and Tim Gill.  It makes cogent and informed points that underscore the reasonableness of those urging ASTM to defer passing its current proposals in respect of  playground surfacing.

In a similar vein, I urge you to read – if you have not already done so – Jay Beckwith’s blog on the same subject.

I add two points of my own:

1.    It is important to value, to hold fast to, our common sense, observation and experienced-based knowledge about children, their competency, behaviour, and risk assessing capabilities.  ‘Objective’ statistical data represents but one form of evidence.  It says nothing in particular in the absence of a value-based framework within which ‘facts’ can be weighted and assessed.

2.  It is clear that opposition is growing to the ASTM proposals.  Voices are being raised, arguments made, blogs being written.  It strikes me – as it has done for some time – that there is also a need to organise, to generate an institutional form that can build on current concerns, and which can channel, inform and maintain a much needed, wide ranging discussion about play equipment and surfacing standards.  I hope my American friends will not accuse me of trespass if I suggest that this move is most immediately pressing in the USA.

I intend to return in more detail to the issues raised here and in the blogs referenced above in March once back from India where – on a recalcitrant guest house keyboard – this note has been written.

A final observational note: if you want proof of the competency of children, and their capacity to care for one another, visit this amazing country where such evidence is daily before one’s eyes.

 

A real and present danger to play provision

I need to alert readers to a real and present danger.

Before proceeding, however, I enter a plea.  A plea that you stick with this article despite the fact that the subject may – until now – have been a turn-off.   I say again:  I am about to speak about a real and present danger.

The subject is play provision Standards, in this case a new Standard in respect of IAS (Impact Absorbing Surface) being proposed by ASTM’s (American Society for Testing and Materials) playground surfacing committee.

Do not imagine that any changes will affect only the USA.   Eventually, the likelihood is that they will affect Standards across national boundaries. Continue reading

Play England: Whither goest thou?

The newly minted independent  Play England is to have its first AGM on the 28 November. It’s potentially a significant event, and that alone justifies sharing some thoughts.

But first, congratulations and thanks to the current Play England trustees are in order.  I have the sense that negotiating the decoupling of Play England from NCB has, for the trustees, been a long, often arduous, time consuming – voluntary time freely given – not always easy process.  But, through their endeavours, an independent Play England has now been bequeathed us. ‘Us’,  Play England’s members.  So, thanks to the trustees for staying with this, for seeing it through.

Independent

It is not the intention of this piece to veer overly towards philosophical ruminations, but there is a distinction worth making and it is this.  True, PE is now formally an independent, self-governing body. But ‘independence’ carries greater meaning than simply a formal designation of legal status.  In the sense Continue reading