Galley Hill Primary School Case Study
Name: Anthony McGeeney
Position in School: Headteacher
Name of school: Galley Hill Primary School
Still in programme or award level: Still in programme
What type of school are you?
270 children in Guisborough. Children are aged 3-11
Describe the size, location, age range and demographic
What were the grounds like?
Children were on designated playgrounds – Key stage 1 and Reception on the ‘top playground’ and Key Stage 2 on the ‘bottom playground’. Football dominated the Keys Stage 2 playground, with other children trying to find space to play their games. There was a polytunnel that was used for 30 minutes once a week for gardening club and the field was used on a sunny day. Children were usually trying to make their own space on the playground and were not allowed to use any other area.
What did the play offer look like before OPAL?
Children had little to do. There were a few football games and a few skipping ropes. Staff were there to make sure that everyone was safe and monitored the playgrounds. Children tended to sit around the edge of the playground whilst there were ‘busy’ games, such as tig and football, dominating playgrounds. Staff have first aid training, but nothing around play. Support was provided, usually around behaviour.
What behavioural issues were there?
Every now and again there were behavioural issues that would have to be dealt with by SLT and class teachers after play times. This was not very often, but usually originated from falling out from games, not having enough equipment or lack of space to play games.
How has OPAL improved the equality of your play offer across gender, age and ability?
All children now have equal space and different areas across the school grounds. There is now no domination of games as a result of the changes of activities and areas, from rolling down a hill, connecting with nature, climbing trees, being on a swing or dancing in the dance zone, there is a richer variety of play opportunities.
Although we are still in bubbles, as a result of Covid restrictions, children are mindful of the areas that they are in and how it can be used by those younger and older than them. There is a real shared equity in their play, they want it to be the best as possible for all.
What difference has OPAL made to the quality of play?
There is a real ‘buzz’ around the quality of play in school. The children are excited to go outside and explore all the ‘new areas’. Children have more space and a wider variety of equipment and experiences. The quality of play has vastly improved over a relatively short period of time, as there is a focus on what the children need, especially as part of the recovery of returning to school. Social interactions have been such a huge part of play since March 2021 and children have been able to explore, be creative, laugh, challenge themselves, persevere and have an amazing play experience. Children have so many more ideas of what they would like to see and have become a true partner in developing their areas and play opportunities.
What difference has OPAL made to senior leadership?
SLT have a real focus as play being part of the curriculum. It is when someone tells you that playtime is 20% of the school day and you haven’t stopped to think about it strategically, or financially, in that way, that gives you a real purpose to refocus and ensure that all ‘non structured’ time in school is not seen as just play, but play with purpose and is now part of the school curriculum and budgeting.
What difference has OPAL made to your lunchtime staff?
Lunchtime staff are now immersed into lunchtime play. They are taking part in Basketball, helping children create towers, facilitating the play opportunities and leaving with a big smile on their face! The change of title helped shift the mind set – we no longer have lunchtime supervisors, we now have play leaders. It is a little change, but had a huge impact on what the role is. Children and adults playing in a safe way. Boundaries are still there, but the exploration and dynamic risk assessments are key to unlocking the full play potential.
What other impacts has OPAL made?
Play has been the driving force, as we returned fully to school after Covid Lockdown restrictions in March 2021. Children, and all staff, have fully embraced play, looking at what opportunities we can give to children to ensure that they ‘catch up’ on play, resilience, laughter, collaboration, risk taking, creativity and being ready to learn. It has been a joy to see the whole school community support play, from parents to local community members, offering equipment to help develop areas. It feels like a whole community development, having an impact on everyone involved.
What advice would you give to a school thinking of enrolling on the OPAL Primary Programme?
Be brave, help normalise play and the power that it can bring. There are still rules, there is still structure, it isn’t a ‘free for all’. The benefits are clear to see in a short space of time. Make sure you have plans (and stick to them as you would do for any other priority), have lots of hands on deck to help create and monitor the equipment that children will need to make sure that loose parts continue to create new opportunities for children to explore and be creative. It is the best ‘catch up’ that you can give the children in school!