The “best fun possible every playtime” approach achieves Platinum status at Bannerman Road Community Academy

Playtimes look and feel very different at Bannerman Road Community Academy (part of the Venturers Trust) in Bristol compared to how many of us may remember rather dull and uninspiring playtimes from bygone school years.

The primary school’s aim is for every child to have the best fun possible every playtime. How brilliant and how much fun does that sound? The equipment and spaces provided encourage every child to be active and engaged, choosing what they want to do and how they want to use what’s available.

Five shed spaces full of equipment from recycled surfboards, mud kitchens, motorbike crash barriers, fixed speakers, bikes, scooters and so much more fire the children’s imagination and make for endless games and activities.

In fact the school’s play times now look very similar to the ones at the school in this video.

Perhaps to the untrained eye, rather chaotic and almost risky. Absolutely not! This type of play has been developed by the school over a three-year period under the guidance of the not-for-profit organisation and experts Outdoor Play and Learning for Schools (OPAL), who are dedicated to making sure that every child in every primary school has a fantastic playtime every day. Policies, staffing and resources have all been carefully developed and that includes working closely with all the children around behaviour expectations at playtime and how everyone must “risk assess” what activity/play they plan to do.

The impacts and benefits of this approach and type of play are many, including fewer behaviour issues in classroom sessions, quicker settling down after playtimes and fundamentally the wellbeing of both the children and staff has improved.

“It’s not complicated”, says Oliver Laken, Acting Head of the school. “Happy children behave more and learn better. So many of our children have limited life experiences due to the recent impacts of Covid, this type of child-led play is making a huge difference across the entire school, it really lets the children be children”.

Anna Hicks, who is the schools Family Support Worker, has been influential in embedding the OPAL principles in the school, along with the support of all of the staff. She works endlessly to source new equipment and help build a real sense of community. Parents are being invited in to view and experience the play sessions first hand and local businesses are encouraged to get involved – donating suitable resources and equipment.

As a result of the schools dedication and focus on bringing this type of play to life, they have achieved Platinum status from OPAL, the highest award possible.

OPAL was founded by former teacher, playworker and school improvement officer Michael Follett in 2011. It now has a network of 24 specialist mentors supporting hundreds of schools across the UK to improve their playtimes.

Michael said, “I am very impressed with what Bannerman Road Community Academy has achieved. Play takes up 1.4 years of a child’s life at primary school and many schools struggle to make it fulfilling and enjoyable. Working with OPAL’s guidance and support, this school has succeeded in making every playtime a wonderful, happy and fulfilling experience for all of its pupils

“The benefits that Bannerman Road Community Academy have seen from having such great playtimes are very similar to what we have seen in other schools; a considerable drop in first aid incidents, at least ten minutes more teaching time per teacher per day and a much happier, more inclusive playground.”