International School Psychology Association Conference 2017
Children’s access to their right to play: the potential role of school psychologists
Symposium links to the following conference themes
• Developing strategies to support children with learning difficulties
• Helping schools to become safe and effective learning environments
• Promoting inclusivity in diverse communities
• Training psychologists and other professionals to become effective practitioners
Dr Cathy Atkinson, Curriculum Director, Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology, University of Manchester, UK
Presenters (order as anticipated):
Ms Marianne Mannello, Assistant Director, Play Wales, UK
Mr Mike Barclay, Play Sufficiency Lead for Wrexham Council, UK
Ms Becki Finney, Trainee Educational Psychologist, Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology, University of Manchester, UK
Ms Natasha Goodhall, Trainee Educational Psychologist, Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology, University of Manchester, UK
Ms Francesca Woods, Trainee Educational Psychologist, Doctorate in Educational and Child Psychology, University of Manchester, UK
Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child advocates access to play and leisure. Ground-breaking work by the International Play Association and in Wales (unique in incorporating right to play within legislation) is highlighted, before the role of school psychologists in supporting access is explored.
Presentation abstracts (in anticipated order of presentation)
Perspectives on a world-wide campaign for children’s right to play
To children, playing is one of the most important aspects of their lives: they value time, freedom and quality places to play (International Play Association (IPA), 2010). Many children benefit from adult support to make the most of their play as “while play is a robust phenomenon… it can be compromised if conditions are not supportive” (Lester & Russell, 2010, p. 5)
IPA, an international non-governmental association, provides a forum for exchange and action across disciplines and sectors. It protects, preserves and promotes the child’s right to play as a fundamental human right. IPA, concerned that play and its importance to well-being was not understood by governments worldwide, worked with international partners to highlight with the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child the need for a General comment on article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
In 2013, IPA launched a worldwide campaign to promote the right to play. The catalyst for this campaign was the adoption of General comment No. 17 on article 31 of the UNCRC. This session will reflect on what has been achieved regarding article 31 implementation and what more needs to be done.
Children’s views about play sufficiency in Wales
Welsh legislation places a statutory duty on all local authorities to assess and secure sufficient play opportunities for children. This presentation will focus on the approach taken by one Welsh council to assess and secure sufficient opportunities for children’s play. In particular, it will focus on innovative and accessible research methods detailed to ascertain the perspectives of children and young people about their satisfaction with the opportunities for play available to them.
Drawing on the work of Kytta (2003) children were able to use an adapted traffic light system to identify factors that constrained (red), regulated (amber) or supported (green) their time and space for playing. Methods were deliberately child-centred and children’s opinions given at least equal weight to those of adults. Children often had different perceptions to when they were playing freely to those which might have been anticipated by adults. This has implications for both access to time and space for play in school; and curriculum thinking. The presentation highlights conceptual findings emerging from the research using narrative accounts provided by the children and young people themselves.
Teachers’ views about children’s access to play
Studies have shown tensions in balancing opportunities for play experiences with the workload demands of the UK National Curriculum. Although many teachers perceive play as a valuable activity, content, assessment procedures and pressure to achieve targets often dominate, leading to high amounts of formalised learning. This prioritisation of adult agendas and lack of understanding of the value of play, can limit children’s ability to exercise their right to play in schools. Furthermore, it is not known to what extent the widespread benefits of play are advocated within the training of teachers within the UK.
This small scale, exploratory research sought to identify the perspectives of two teachers of 5-6 year-old children, via individual interviews, about to what extent their training experiences highlighted the benefits of play; and to ascertain their current views about how children access their right to play within the course of the school day. Findings revealed how limited training input and curriculum pressures meant that play access was sometimes overlooked as a priority. Implications for school psychologists are discussed, including how they might work at both individual and systematic levels with teachers to promote children’s play access.
Comparing children’s access to their right to play within Welsh and English curricula
The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG, 2003) raised widespread concern over the introduction of formal, sedentary activities for children in early childhood, which led to the subsequent development of the ‘Foundation Phase Framework for Children’s Learning for three- to seven-year-olds’ in Wales, with its commitment to active, play-based experiential learning for children up to the age of 7. This study compared children’s access to their right to play of children aged 5-7 years old within Welsh and English curricula, using a case study design. Child-led tours and focus groups, observations of curriculum delivery and teacher interviews were all used to identify perceptions of right to play access amongst the children themselves and the staff working with them. Two small rural schools participated in the research, one from each country.
Findings illustrate similarities and differences between perceptions of play in the two schools and highlight enablers and barriers to free play access. Although small scale and exploratory, the research offers significant and important avenues for future research and raises important issues, as well as potential opportunities, for school psychologists who may see themselves as advocates of play rights for children.
Children’s right to play within a Rights Respecting School
In 2004, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) introduced the Rights Respecting School Award (RRSA). The award provides initial training for staff, and finally, recognition for schools that have embedded the principles of all articles of the UNCRC within their policy and practice. In 2010, international research highlighted the decline in free play opportunities for all children, identifying certain groups as particularly at risk. Named amongst these groups were children with disabilities. Following these findings, the UNCRC introduced General Comment No. 17 to Article 31, specifying the right to free play for all children.
The research used case study methodology, using interviews with children and teachers, observations and analysis of policy documents; to focus upon how a Rights Respecting School in the North of England has enabled free play for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Findings emerging from the data collection highlight aspects of school practice which are facilitative of free play opportunities for children with SEND and identify enabling factors within the school ethos and structure. Implications will consider both barriers and facilitator to free play and how identifying these can be helpful in supporting the development of practice.