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Outdoor Play and Learning for Schools

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Playtimes are better with OPAL

OPAL supports primary schools to dramatically improve the quality of day-to-day play times, with a consequent beneficial impact on lunchtime behaviour (some of our schools have seen their serious behavioural problems completely disappear!), engagement, learning, personal development and physical activity/literacy.

The frequency of accidents such as head bumps reduces dramatically because a key aspect of improving the playtime environment the OPAL way is that staff will quickly find they have several hundred children who are no longer rushing aimlessly around or chasing a ball in a confined space that is also occupied by children trying to play in a different, perhaps quieter way. Children soon become engaged in far more interesting activities such as building dens, making ‘meals’ in the sand/mud kitchen, socialising with friends, performing on stage or embarking on expeditions to new lands.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all ball games have to be restricted – they are terrific fun as well as being of great benefit. OPAL can show a school how to cleverly apply some very simple enhancements to the playground space (you can see them in many our schools) that will enable ball games to continue without disturbing all of the other play activities also going on. Our school clients also report that they are getting anything up to 20 minutes extra teaching time immediately after break times, simply because all of their pupils are now in a much better frame of mind for learning as soon as they re-enter the classroom. All of the playground arguments have suddenly disappeared!

OPAL runs the only programme that has been independently proven to improve the quality of play in British primary schools through support, training and guidance. The support is primarily aimed at the midday supervisor team (The Play Team) but because our programme transforms the entire school culture in a very positive way it is also for everyone else in the school community, from the Headteacher and governors to the TA’s and the caretaker (and everyone in between). Find out below some of the many ways we help our schools…

The OPAL Primary Programme

The OPAL Primary Programme was developed by South Gloucestershire Council School Improvement Service to support school improvement through play. It is the main service provided by OPAL and has been independently proven to be highly effective.

Here is a small part of what Ofsted said in April 2016 when they inspected OPAL ‘Platinum Award’ rated Kender Primary, located in Lewisham, London –

Personal development, behaviour and welfare is outstanding 
The school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare is outstanding.
Pupils get on very well with each other and this leads to the school operating an open culture of acceptance across all year groups. 
The playground is a hive of activities and no one is left out. Pupils support one another when someone is hurt and the high level of integration cuts across age group and ethnicity. 
Pupils are extremely proud of their OPAL (outdoor play and learning), which they contributed to developing. They see OPAL as an integral part of their school, a development that was justly given a platinum award for inventiveness. 
The culture is underpinned by the mantra ‘we are resilient’, and they do not give up trying.

For more on behavioural benefits and increased teaching time, see our ‘Talking Heads’

Skills

Children have always developed all the key skills they’ll need for the future (sometimes called soft skills) through playing every single day. It has been thus throughout human history. Self-regulation, cognitive improvement, confidence and character/determination are all highly valued ‘skills’ best improved through play.

One aspect of this positive development is deliberate exposure to situations which appear (to a child) to be challenging or ‘risky’. The presence of a percieved risk, even a small one, sets off a process in the child’s brain – the release of certain hormones. These hormones are messages for various parts of the body, telling muscles, lungs, eyes, nerves, etc. to quickly prepare the child for imminent action of some kind. Heart rate increases and attention sharpens. This learned ability might make us better able to cope with stress, deal with a hard task or make us good at a sport. Equally, it might save our life one day.

Playgrounds and School Grounds

Capital projects from school funds and PTA fundraising can lead to piecemeal and haphazard features in school grounds. OPAL helps schools develop an approach based on clear design, play and learning principles to ensure long term value,


We specialise in supporting your school through a period of culture change using our expertise to create an approach right for your school, your staff and your children. You can find out more about our approach in

CREATING EXCELLENCE IN PRIMARY SCHOOL PLAYTIMES

‘How to make 20% of the school day 100% better’

From education publisher of the year JKP

ORDER HERE

Proven by Research

The OPAL Primary Programme is based on many years of research and development. Two Universities carried out an independent evaluation of the programme and found it to be highly effective.

 

Our Past Work

Find out what we’ve done in the past and what headteachers say about us:

 


Reception and Early Years

OPAL has extensive experience in designing outdoor environments which meet the complex development needs of reception age children and also meeting the needs of the adults supporting them.

 

School Grounds

Playtimes are better with OPAL