Beech Green Primary Case Study

Name: Kate Hart

Position in School: Curriculum Lead for OPAL

Name of school: Beech Green Primary

Still in programme or award level: Still in programme

What type of school are you?

Suburban 2-form entry, with 410 children, on the outskirts of the city of Gloucester, established in 1986

What were the grounds like?

Our school has 2 main playgrounds, both very separate from one another, but joined by a large expanse of flat grass. There are a few trees (less than 10) around the perimeter. There is a ‘wild’ nature area in the middle of the 2 playgrounds, which used to house a pond, however children could not access this freely as it was designated Forest School space. The space we have is large, considering our school is in a housing estate and next to a busy shopping precinct, however it was flat and boring, and largely under-utilised most of the school year.

What did the play offer look like before OPAL?

KS1 would use the front playground and KS2 would use the back. These year groups did not mix at playtimes. The field was only used on dry days during the last half of the summer term and the first half of the autumn term. There were a few footballs but no other resources were provided for the children. Children would invariably be bored and misbehave – many, many behaviour incidents occurred every day. The Play Team (previously known as Midday Supervisors) struggled with discipline and got very little respect from the children. Staff would be offered basic first aid training. Children would spend, on average, 15 minutes queuing for lunch, 20 minutes eating lunch, then 25 minutes playing.

What behavioural issues were there?

School adopted a red/orange slip procedure within their behaviour policy – orange for minor incidents, red for major. An average lunchtime would see around 20 slips being issued. Teachers would be informed of behaviour incidents at the end of lunch, and this could disrupt learning for some time, while it was being dealt with. SLT would manage behaviour during the lunchtime and there would regularly be a group of children positioned and isolated around various parts of the school during lunchtimes, and therefore, being excluded from play. Slips were then replaced electronically when a new recording system was introduced (CPOMS). A similar number of incidents used to be recorded on CPOMS, before OPAL was implemented.

How has OPAL improved the equality of your play offer across gender, age and ability?

Children spend, on average, less than 5 minutes queuing for a hot meal. Packed lunches are eaten straightaway and they can immediately play once they have finished. Play was dominated by football, which most of the boys engaged in. Girls would use the rest of the playground space to play chase, and run about. Now, we have just as many boys dressing up (I saw a boy playing football wearing a Mary Poppins outfit recently!) as we have girls playing football. All children can access all areas and play with any equipment or activity or person they wish – regardless of what age they are. Sometimes, children with additional needs who found playtimes tricky, would ‘hide’ at the edge of the playground, or cling on to a member of staff. Very little of that goes on now – there is always something for everyone to do. Our provision is no longer just a few footballs – we have a (huge!) sandpit, digging zone, building zone, mud kitchens, café, dress up shed, bikes and scooters, gym mats and music, long grass which has been re-wilded into a meadow, tree climbing and playing with sticks. And we are now only limited by our imagination (and funding!) – we have so much more we wish to offer our children. A climbing wall, gravel pit, water play, small world rockery and performance stage are just a few of our future projects.

What difference has OPAL made to the quality of play?

Taking a stroll around our school grounds during a normal, regular lunchtime (when NOT in a pandemic and having to keep bubbles separate) is a feast for the senses: bubbles, chalks, sticks, toys, dancing, fun, laughter. I could go on and on. The only thing stopping our children from enriching their play is their imagination – and they have plenty of that! Performance play, physical play, sensory play, fantasy play, exploratory play – they can now experience so many more types of play, and their lives and learning are better for it.

What difference has OPAL made to senior leadership?

The impact has been huge! There are less than 5 CPOMS incidents per month now.

What difference has OPAL made to your lunchtime staff?

Initially, the Play Team were hesitant about the changes. Remote supervision and the dynamic ‘risky’ play on offer wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, the team we have in place now are fully supportive and on board (even when it’s a No Wet Play Day!). The relationship they have with the children is great – they have fun, offer them independence and watch them indulge in so much creativity. The Play Team are offered training and developing, are involved in regular meetings every half-term to maintain communication and cohesion within the OPAL programme, and will soon be offered appraisal meetings to further develop their skillset.

What other impacts has OPAL made?

Staff and pupil wellbeing has improved – playtimes are more positive, and full of laughter and enjoyment. Children can choose to be involved in making ‘risky’ play choices. We highlight the importance of considering risk: Responsible, Imaginative, Safe and Kind. This acronym has allowed children to feel independent, more resilient and have a greater sense of achievement when their play choice has rewarded them with satisfaction and success.

What advice would you give to a school thinking of enrolling on the OPAL Primary Programme?

Go for it! Don’t hold back. You’ll have no regrets. It is hard work, and involves a huge culture change. Not everyone will be on board, but perseverance and holding the children’s best interests at the heart of all decision-making will ensure that the journey is valuable and worthwhile.

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