Children face a “brutal” loss of time and space to play in public schools | Access to green spaces.

Children are facing a “brutal” loss of space and time to play at school, teachers, unions and academics have warned.

A combination of factors is eating up the time children spend outdoors and will have serious implications for their wellbeing and mental health.

  • A Guardian analysis of the space available to public school children in England has revealed that thousands of people attend schools with very little outside space, and government data shows that more than 300 schools have less than 1,000 square meters and at least 20 have no outdoor space. In almost 1,000 schools, there are less than 10 square meters per student.

  • New, unpublished research from the UCL Institute of Education seen by The Guardian showed a continuing downward trend in the amount of time children have to play in the wake of Covid lockdowns, with the youngest among those losing time. most of his time.

  • Curriculum demands have increased and continue to decrease outdoor time, while staffing shortages are reducing the ability to supervise play time.

  • Across England and Wales, schools are facing difficult financial decisions, which are having an impact on funding for grounds care. State sector bosses have said they desperately need funding to improve basic facilities for children.

  • School buildings are falling apart, as many were built with Raac (autoclaved reinforced cellular concrete) which was not replaced during its useful life, meaning that in some cases playgrounds are being used to house temporary classrooms. This is reducing the little space some schools have for children to spend time outdoors.

Damien Jordan, headteacher at Fairlight Primary School in Brighton, told The Guardian he did everything he could to get children to play in just 800 square meters of outdoor space.

“We are a true inner-city school,” he said. “We have kids who leave here on a Friday, go back to their apartment and don’t leave until they get back on Monday morning.

“We have to be their garden, their soccer field, the space where parents can talk to their friends.”

Jordan said he had seen gaming removed from the school day during his time as a teacher.

“I’ve been chief for 22 years,” he said. “Now we are trying to cram a lot more learning into the same length of day. The curriculum means that from the age of six or seven the game ends… it’s brutal, the children are not prepared. “Classrooms go from being a free-flowing space to something more office-like.”

Damien Jordan: “The curriculum means that from the age of six or seven the game no longer exists.” Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

James Bowen, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, was also deeply concerned about the “overstretched curriculum” and the burden it places on teachers and children, meaning “it can be challenging to ensure there is time to cover everything.” – including ensuring that play time is included in the school day. NAHT would like to see a reduction in curriculum content so that schools have the time and space to ensure not only that the curriculum itself can be adequately covered but also that there is time for other crucial aspects of school life.

And headteacher Tina Farr, of St Ebbes Primary School in Oxford, said nothing was more important than making sure students had space and time to play. “She Just turn on the news and you will see the children’s mental health crisis. We need to start managing schools in accordance with healthy child development. “We can give them six nutritious hours a day and it is absolutely necessary.”

Meanwhile, students at England’s top private schools enjoy more than 330 square meters of green space each, an investigation by The Guardian revealed. Many of these schools offer daily sports or outdoor activities and emphasize their belief in the vital importance of time outdoors for the development of a young person’s mind.

Experts and teachers are linking the growing problem in the state school sector with the rise in mental health problems among young people. In 2023, according to the NHS, around one in five children and young people aged eight to 25 had a probable mental health problem.

But as the election approaches, neither the Conservative nor Labor manifestos recognize the link. Both parties have promised to expand mental health services in schools, and the Conservatives say they will also require two hours of physical education a week. But the expert consensus is that children need at least an hour of exercise daily, a level that many doubt they are achieving.

Dr. Helen Dodd, a professor of child psychology at the University of Exeter medical school and an expert on the link between play and children’s mental health, said there is an urgent need for children to be allowed more time to play. outdoors to play. “My experience is in mental health. I keep hearing that we need to improve treatment for children. Well, wait a minute: why do we put so much effort into treatment when we could first give them more opportunities to play outside?

“This is low-hanging fruit. Before spending money on counselors, on treatments, let’s let children play more outdoors when they are at school.”

But he said many school spaces were not fit for purpose. “The environments we place children in are not designed for their health or happiness. And school staff tell us that because of the pressures placed on them for their educational achievements, they are unable to prioritize outdoor play.

“We know that science shows that children need to be in nature; we need to find ways to ensure that children can do that.”

He said too many barriers were put up to keep children out on the streets. “I hope we are in a pre-change phase as I see more interest in play since the pandemic, although I wouldn’t say I’m seeing real change yet. “Schools will not try to offer more games unless the government is interested and has some chance of adopting it as a wider practice.”

Dodd said what he saw in the schools was part of a larger, troubling picture. “Children are losing space and time to play everywhere.”

skip past newsletter promotion

“Severe cuts to municipal budgets mean that councils often do not prioritize outdoor play spaces.” Photography: darek/Alamy

Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP in Tower Hamlets, east London, said: “There is compelling evidence that exercise benefits mental health, particularly outdoor exercise, so those with less access to spaces Outdoor greens are at a disadvantage.

“Severe cuts to council budgets mean that councils often fail to prioritize outdoor play spaces and cuts to education budgets mean that schools, which are heavily inspected and penalized, inevitably prioritize classroom on the playground”.

The crisis follows decades in which local authorities and state schools have sold off their playing fields, with around 10,000 sold under the Conservative government between 1979 and 1997, and several hundred since then.

Until 2012, government regulations required that a secondary school with more than 600 students needed 35,000 square meters of playing fields, which is equivalent to about 58 square meters. for each child. But under Michael Gove as Education Secretary, the government removed the requirements and introduced new rules that meant schools only had to provide unspecified “adequate outdoor space” for PE lessons and play.

The Department for Education defended the change by saying it would make it “easier and cheaper” to open new schools, and some free schools have opened in converted office blocks that offer little outside space.

But a Guardian analysis of school grounds, based on government figures, shows that these changes have led to thousands of children attending schools with little or no outside space. More than 300 schools have less than 1,000 square meters and at least 20 have no outdoor space at all. In nearly 1,000 schools, students have less than 10 square meters per student. And state schools in the most deprived areas of England have the least amount of outdoor space, with 18% less per pupil than schools in the least deprived neighborhoods in the country.

Steve Chalke, director of the Oasis Trust, which runs schools in deprived areas of England, said local authorities were not retaining enough land for children to live and breathe. “Councils are converting land into housing but leaving local schools without enough space. I see very crowded new schools where staff tell me: ‘You can’t swing a cat here.’”

“Local authorities don’t think about the next generation when they build too many homes. Once space is gone, it is gone forever. “Children need green spaces for their mental health and unfortunately we will neglect it in the long term.”

Updated research on the amount of time pupils spend outdoors shows the same decline in supply. In 2019, Ed Baines, senior lecturer in psychology and education at the UCL Institute of Education, found with colleagues that the youngest primary school children, aged five to seven, had 45 minutes less rest time each week than children of the same age. in 1995. High school students lost 65 minutes in the same time. His recent work, shared exclusively with The Guardian, indicates that this trend has continued, with younger children losing 14 more minutes a day.

Baines said: “The latest figures have the caveat that they were taken when children returned after lockdown restrictions ended in June 2021, but the trajectory is deeply worrying. “All our research shows that young people also engage much less in social interaction with friends outside of school.”

A group of children and education experts recently launched a “plan for play” backed by MP Kim Leadbeater, calling on the Department for Education to include play in the curriculum alongside maths and English for all ages.

Michael Follett, director of Opal Outdoor Play and Learning, one of the organizations behind the call, said children’s poor health could be addressed by focusing on play in all aspects of their lives, but particularly in schools. “There is a current and growing crisis in childhood. Children are less fit and less active. They are increasingly suffering from mental health problems on a scale we have never seen before.

One of his colleagues, Neil Coleman, said: “We hear time and again headteachers say, ‘Children don’t know how to play.’ “If they don’t have enough time to play at school, the reality is that for many children they don’t play anywhere.”

Leave a Comment