Sandwell metropolitan borough is a densely populated urban area on the northwest outskirts of Birmingham in England. Comprising of six large ‘towns’, the largest being West Bromwich, Sandwell has an ethnically diverse population of approximately 327,000 people.
As far as we are aware this is the first play sufficiency assessment of its kind in England, which unlike Wales does not currently have a statutory duty requiring local authorities to assess and secure play sufficiency. However, as part of the UK, England has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and therefore General Comment 17 from the UN Committee applies to England. GC17 includes a recommendation that state parties introduce legislation to support children’s right to play based on the principle of sufficiency. Furthermore, whilst there may not be a specific legal duty, the concept of play sufficiency can still be applied locally and in doing so Sandwell Council is not only addressing children’s needs and rights but is also blazing a trail for local authorities in England; the outcomes and outputs of which should be of interest to others concerned with the sufficiency of children’s opportunities for play.
This pioneering attitude is largely due to Sandwell Council’s small but passionate and committed play team led by the impressive duo of Samantha Harman and Tracey Jobber, who themselves have been inspired by work going on in Wales associated with the Welsh Play Sufficiency Duty. On our first visit to their offices Sam’s illustration of the team’s work made it clear that this is a team with a strategic outlook and multi-channel approach to improving conditions for play.
Sam saw an opportunity to further develop this strategic approach through the implementation of the play sufficiency process, generating local and trustworthy evidence on which to base their interventions, improving the credibility of their work and helping to ensure the council’s limited human and financial resources were used to greatest effect.
It was also an opportunity to account for the work they were already doing in support of play and encourage those working in other policy areas across the local authority to recognise and develop their responsibilities towards children and their play. In doing so the intention is to secure more strategic support for children’s right to play by raising its status and value across the local authority. On this point, our experience suggests that sharing the real-life experiences of children trying to find time and space for play, can significantly improve the willingness of adults to pay attention to how their actions directly and indirectly impact on children’s opportunities.
The Knowledge Transfer Process
The knowledge transfer process with Go Play began by us working with Sam and Tracey to develop a robust methodology, including a detailed work plan for the full play sufficiency assessment. The first phase of the assessment is an online satisfaction survey for children, which we designed, hosted and analysed the responses from (although it was Sam and Tracey who had to do the hard work of encouraging schools to take part and input many of the responses).
Alongside this Sam and Tracey have also been identifying other partners to be involved in the process (which will include us delivering a presentation policy leads and strategic decision makers). With our guidance and support they are also collating information from other existing datasets and have begun analysing local policy documents to establish strategic support for play.
At the time of writing the next phase of the assessment is just beginning, which focuses on face-to-face research with children, parents and practitioners in case study communities identified through the satisfaction survey. This will include multiple workshops with children in both primary and secondary schools and those with protected characteristics. Again, we provided the tried and tested research methods, session plans and materials and spent a lovely two days training the team to use them but it is Sam, Tracey and another playworker Laura who will actually facilitate all these workshops. It is therefore they who will gain first-hand experience of what is actually happening ‘on the ground’.
We will then be supporting the team to make sense of the primary data collected and identify ways in which this can be presented to other stakeholders, enabling them to explore the implications for work across the local authority. This next phase of the assessment will take place through a series of workshops and interviews with policy leads and strategic decisions makers, with a view to establishing a strategic group for play.
Using our play sufficiency assessment template, information from this final phase of the assessment will be combined with data from the desk-based and face-to-face research elements of the assessment to create a detailed account of the ‘state of play’ in Sandwell. This process will culminate in the development of a strategic action plan for the local authority.
The Way Forward
This work also comes at a time when Sandwell Council is looking to develop a new play strategy. However, it is now envisaged that the assessment document and subsequent action plan will provide the strategic direction the council requires. The intention is that following the initial assessment there will be an implementation phase where the play team leads on the implementation of the action plan and coordinates other developmental work associated with the findings from the assessment. After approximately three or four years, the assessment phase will then begin again with the aim of evaluating progress and identifying priorities for further action. The intention is that by the second assessment the play team will be sufficiently experienced to take on more responsibility for completing this research with a lower level of external support required.
United Nations, (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Geneva: UN General Assembly.
UNCRC, (2013). General comment No. 17 on the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts (art. 31). Geneva: UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).