Category Archives: Evidence-based

It’s not all progress

Preamble

I want in the article that follows, and the next one,  to consider aspects of the resistance, current and developing, to what can be called the ‘pro-risk’ movement in respect of play and outdoor learning.

In this, I’m as interested in the subjective, internalised, self-oppression experienced by at least some – I hazard to suggest actually many – practitioners, a symptom of which is abiding by norms that they rationally disavow, as much as objective factors such as the hold Standards have on thought and action. 

This piece, I’m afraid, ends in a minor key.

Progress and movement

I remember thinking myself rather bright – a momentary conceit – when, in some essay or other, upon which matter I cannot now recall, I drew a distinction between progress and mere movement, and the danger of mistaking the latter for the former.   It is, I think, a not uncommon error which, unchecked, can restrict vision to that which one likes to see.  The concomitant danger being threats, barriers and counter-currents come to occupy only one’s peripheral vision, or are pushed out of sight completely.

These musings once again tapped me on the shoulder as I enjoyed the splendid three day 5th International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA) conference in Lund, Sweden, hosted by the formidable City of Lund’s Naturskolan team.   The programme included visits to some quite delicious school grounds and public spaces.  Green, ‘natural’ spaces, needless to say.  The taste reference, by the way, is not misplaced since the treats included first rate lunches grown and/or cooked by local schools.  Continue reading

Review of Adrian Voce’s book ‘Policy for Play: Responding to children’s forgotten right’

I was invited by the International Journal of Play to write a review of  Adrian Voce’s ‘Policy for Play: Responding to children’s forgotten right’. 

This is the original manuscript of the review published by Taylor & Francis in International Journal of Play on 15 March 2016  available online http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21594937.2016.1146492

Policy for Play is at once a eulogy for the demise of an unfulfilled, wished-for future, and a statement of faith in the need for, and possibility of, resurrection.

The unfulfilled future is the Play Strategy for England which did not live long beyond its birth; the hope of resurrection resides in the belief of many play advocates, and certainly the author’s,  that children’s ‘forgotten right’ to play can be secured only by a national, all-embracing policy (or strategy, the terms are used interchangeably) for play.

Policy for Play is Adrian Voce’s well-written account of the rationale for national play polices, and a detailed history of attempts to secure such a policy for England.  It is an insider’s account, one that chronicles the twists and the turns, the ups and the downs, of this singular pursuit. Continue reading

Reflection on court finding no negligence in injury at play claim

Attention has rightly been drawn to a recent British Columbia (Canada) Supreme Court Judgment that, whilst not serving as precedent in other jurisdictions, is both interesting and useful.  You can read the judgment here.

In brief, the civil law case – brought under British Columbia Occupiers Liability Act 1996 – focuses on a negligence claim against the District of Saanich by, at the time of the incident, an 11 year old child (represented by a litigation guardian) who was injured as the result of falling during a ‘tag’ game – known locally as ‘grounders’ – from one level of a play equipment’s platform to another.  The incident occurred during a day camp taking place on a school playground, though not a school project.  The day camp provision was supervised.

I recommend that those concerned with risk, liability, negligence and related issues in respect of play (and more widely, leisure and sports) read the judgment in its entirety.  It is not a long document, and the court’s line of thinking that led it to dismiss the negligence claim is clearly spelled out.  I was intrigued by one aspect of the judgment, and that’s what prompts me to write this piece.  But more of that anon. Continue reading

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

ASTM and Surfacing Standards – back again, so organise

As you will see from Tim Gill’s blog – Playground Safety: Troubling New Move From ASTM – and the quote below, there appears to be a renewed attempt to amend ASTM surfacing standards, albeit in what looks like a surreptitious way.

‘Overall, the proposal appears to focus on how surfacing is safety-tested once it has been installed (so-called ‘field testing’). Members of the relevant ASTM committee tell me that a change to the head injury criterion or HIC (the key feature in the ASTM proposal rejected earlier this year) is discussed in the proposal. Even though I gather a HIC change is not a substantive feature, the proposal appears to be the latest in a series of efforts to advance this controversial position.’

The arguments against a change to HIC values have been well made and need not be repeated here.

Connect, communicate, organise

There is international, widespread, authoritative opposition to changing the HIC criteria in the absence of close, public, transparent scrutiny of the evidence claimed in support of such a proposal. Thus far, there has been no attempt to respond positively to these demands.

A key problem – and major weakness – for those opposing ASTM proposals is that our opposition is fragmented, comprising of individuals and organisations that have yet to harness the potential of a combined, more systematic approach.

This is in stark contrast to ASTM. It has the organisation and financial ability to advance its interests.

Tim is right to say that he, I and others have urged the need for a wider debate.

But it is not only a question of debate.

Irrespective of the likelihood that the current proposal will actually be passed, there is a need to create some form of formal or quasi-formal grouping, particularly perhaps at this time in the USA from where the current HIC proposals emanate, to address over the long term questions about Standards and Standard making.

At present, discussions about play equipment and surfacing Standards are conducted on the terms set by Standard-making bodies, in this particular case, the ASTM. One can’t help but believe that this court is rigged in favour of sustaining its assumed exclusive right to generate stipulations that too often weigh heavily on play provision, with questionable benefit. This is not to say that Standards have no role to play – they do. But current structures and processes for formulating them are fundamentally flawed.

Given that so many jurisdictions make Standards mandatory, and others treat them as though they were, we are in fact dealing with a publicly unaccountable body that affects public policy – and public expenditure – in a profound and disturbing way. It is not a minor matter. Still less merely a technical one.

It seems to me that those of us arguing for a different approach to Standards and Standard making must, as a matter of some urgency, move from the current position of erupting into bursts of objection to this or that proposal, to creating some form of inter-connected, authoritative entity that can stimulate and sustain debate about Standards and Standard making over the long term – getting to the heart of the matter, one might say. This is particularly pertinent at this time for the USA.

It is the case that Standards are an international matter, have impact accross jurisdictions.  But there is no escaping the fact that individual jurisdictions need to organise for themselves as the first, necessary step towards creating a cross-jurisdiction network capable of making the case for a more reasoned and reasonable approach to play equipment and surfacing Standards and Standard making.

 

The seductions of rubbish talk

It is perhaps a particular feat of our notionally advanced society that it has contrived to obliterate the possibility of communicating in a language which actually communicates what we wish to say, as distinct from what we think we must say.

Adept are we at chucking words and sentences in one direction, and meaning and apt description in the other. This disjunction is perhaps most profound when the attempt is made to say something intelligible about the matters we most care about and value. Make up your own list of what that might be, but art, education, play, disability rights etc are among the inhabitants of this territory.

Rather than speak clearly in that tongue most dear – that is, speaking ‘human’ – utterance is pummelled into ungainly shapes, contorting itself to fit the pre-set template of managerial non-speak: input, output, outcome, impact. 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.