Tag Archives: instrumentalism

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

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

‘Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today’

To cut to the chase:  I hold that a society or culture entrapped by a perpetual need to achieve, to endlessly generate quantifiable outputs, to obsessively ‘progress’ – slippery term that – is a society most likely to exhaust and dispirit its members.  For rather too long, that’s pretty much the position that has been reached.

The emblem and motif of such a society is the treadmill, and the force that drives it, fear.  These afflictions affect adult and child alike, trapping both in a perpetual circle of unremitting striving. It continues without cease – no sooner has one goal or objective been achieved, than another looms into view demanding satisfaction.  Performance is all. Repose is nowhere allowed.  We are required to be strivers. Welcome to the club that should have no members.

The symptoms  of this malady are everywhere about us:  the child who from the earliest age must be made learning or school ‘ready’;  the sales assistant – most likely on a low or minimum wage – as well as the  classroom teacher, now both equally performance assessed; the parent frantic to get their child into a ‘good’ school, the better to ‘achieve’; the school shackled to anxiety about their place in the performance league tables; the voluntary organisation, now formally contracted to provide quantifiable outcomes that do not easily mesh with the substance and purpose  of their undertaking; the business executive tethered to work 24/7 via mobile phone or tablet and driven by targets.  And so on.  The list is long. Continue reading

As Port Wine and Peaty Whisky: a report to savour

Every now and again something rare and delightful wings its way to the place where one is perched – at a desk perhaps.   At first its import and attractiveness is not apparent – it is after all only a report and one’s immediate fear is that it will include the conventional diet of superficial case studies, or an evaluation that barely skims the surface of interest.

Turn now to imagery: for the imbibers among you, imagine a deep red to purple port wine, or a peaty malt whisky.  See them first in the glass, the ‘legs’ clinging to the glass’s side – a lingering quality.  Now taste, and whether port wine or whisky, you’ll feel that warm, smooth, satisfying quality of a drink well-formed, a pleasure well-received.

It is with these thoughts and images in mind that I commend to you the report of a ‘small-scale research project’, by Wendy Russell and Stuart Lester, both of the University of Gloucestershire.  The report explores how Welsh local authorities’ responded to the introduction of the duty to assess sufficiency of play opportunities for children, the first part of the Play Sufficiency Duty as set out in the Children & Families (Wales) Measure 2010, Section 11.  The report was commissioned by the rightly admired Play Wales. Continue reading