Ivydale Primary School Case Study

Name of school: Ivydale Primary School

Still in programme or award level: Platinum Award

What type of school are you?

We are a 2-3 for entry state funded primary school for 3-11 year olds, located in Nunhead, Southwark.

What were the grounds like?

The grounds were tarmac with a fixed climbing frame and a sports cage and little else.

What did the play offer look like before OPAL?

Before OPAL, there was a big gender divide in how the playground was used. The boys battled to use the sports cage for football and took little interest in anything else. We had to rota the use of the cage and the climbing frame by class to prevent arguments. The rest of the space was used for running around and we saw lots of accidents and injuries from children crashing into each other. The staff spent their time policing play and had a strong ‘no’ attitude to anything they hadn’t allowed before or felt wasn’t safe (though there was often no rational reason something might be deemed risky). Staff weren’t supported enough in understanding the value/principles of play and so were really only there to supervise unjuries and behaviour.

What behavioural issues were there?

There were frequent disputes over football and children often had to miss some playtime to calm down or as a consequence for frustrated behaviours. Children fought over what little equipment there was. They generally seemed less happy and so friendships met conflict more often etc. There were also more accidents, partly because of the attention they got from being injured and partly because there wasn’t enough to do to keep them engaged in their play. The end of playtime needed managing tightly through a reward system. Senior leaders were often involved in managing behaviour incidents throughout the lunchtime.

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

OPAL has improved playtimes at Ivydale beyond our expectations. The most stark difference has been the absence of a gender divide. Boys and girls voluntarily choose to play with anything and everything; boys dress up in princess costumes and dance on the stage just as often as the girls, the girls can be found racing around in buggies or digging in mud as much as the boys. This has completely got rid of any battles over football and the sports cage is now the least used space in the playground. The level engagement of all children, including those with SEN, is noticeably higher, incidents and injuries have dropped markedly as children stay focused on their play, and the atmosphere in the playground is one of joy and delight rather than of frustration and tension experienced previously. The quality of play in the older children, who have had a good run of OPAL, has been noted by staff throughout the school.

What difference has OPAL made to the quality of play?

The quality of play is considerably higher every lunchtime everyday. As OPAL has become more and more established, children have been able to play more deeply, plan their play and regulate their needs and social relationships more skilfully. They really look forward to their play and seem thoroughly rewarded by it.

What difference has OPAL made to senior leadership?

Senior leaders are present in the playground every lunchtime, but whereas this used to involve lots of behaviour management, it now involved very little (if any) and they spend the time engaging with children in their play.

What difference has OPAL made to your lunchtime staff?

The Play Team has come a long way from policing to understanding their role as one that supports and facilitates play. They are much more confident in recognising when risk is a positive thing and are less quick to jump in and stop children’s play unnecessarily. The staff make much more effort to engage in the play with the children rather than simply supervising.

What other impacts has OPAL made?

OPAL has had a positive impact on children’s concentration in the classroom. They return to class more fulfilled and having expended energy in a positive way, so they are more ready and willing to settle down to learn. There are fewer social conflicts so they generally return to class less worried about things that have happened during their playtime. Children’s emotional health is greatly supported through their access to OPAL play at Ivydale.


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

“Do it! It’s been the most transformative and straightforward route to change lives for children for the better that I have experienced in my career so far. I cannot think of any rational reason to not give it a go.”

Name:  Helen Easton

Position in School: Assistant Head, Phase 1


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