Category Archives: Play

A renewed, misguided ASTM attempt to change surfacing standards, a Guardian editorial and risk-benefit assessment

‘Bicycle helmets save lives’ a Guardian editorial pointed out today (27.09.2016) referrencing recent Australian research.

The editorial then posed the question:  Should wearing cycle helmets be made compulsory?  Now read on for the editorial’s succinct explication of a form of reasoning we have come to know as risk-benefit assessment.

‘From the point of view of accident reduction, the answer is entirely clear. Helmets do prevent some head injuries, and these can be very serious even when they are not immediately fatal. On the other hand, they are extremely rare. You would have to cycle tens of thousands of hours in Australia to get an injury requiring medical treatment. More than 10 times as many Americans were shot dead in 2014 as died cycling and, despite the headlines, most Americans are never going to be shot at in their lifetimes. The benefits of cycling can’t be translated into such striking figures but there’s no doubt that regular exercise prolongs and improves life in every way, and cycling is one of the best ways to make gentle exercise a daily routine….’

‘…Risk reduction cannot be the only grounds on which policy is decided. If that were the case, helmets would be compulsory for pedestrians as well, since it would reduce the seriousness of some injuries, and undoubtedly save lives too. The ultimate aim of public policy must be to enable and encourage human flourishing, and because we are complicated and contradictory creatures, that must involve a degree of self-contradiction and the balancing of some goods against others.  The sense of freedom and spontaneity that cyclists enjoy is not an illusion and has real value.’

It is a salutory paragraph that members of the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) committee on play equipment and surfacing would do well to read. 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

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

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.

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

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