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Time to play

School play offers benefits to children's wellbeing and is essential for their social development. But time assigned for play in the school day has been eroded. That's why the BPS has launched the Time to Play Campaign, which is calling for an additional 10 minutes of play at school every day.

Play is fundamental to children’s health and wellbeing, and for their social development. It helps develop skills in coping with challenge, facing uncertainty, and how to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances.

Yet research shows that since 1995, break times in the school day have been reduced by 45 minutes a week, resulting in eight out of ten children now having less than one hour of physical activity per day.

That's why the BPS is launching the Time to Play campaign - to put more play back in the school day and reverse the impact of lost playtime on children's wellbeing.

We are calling on the Government to put back 10 minutes each day on to school playtime, reversing the years of decline by restoring 50 minutes spread over a week.

The Government’s strategy for pandemic recovery presents an opportunity to re-evaluate priorities for children in school, and to put play first to protect the mental well-being of school children.

It is more important now than ever before to make sure school is a space that fosters flourishing of children and allows for their social development.

The next stage of the Government’s recovery plan includes a review of time spent in school and college, the findings of which are to be set out this year. As part of this review, we urge the Government to:

  • Put back an additional 10 minutes of play in the school day, restoring the playtime eroded and reversing the negative impact on children’s wellbeing and development
  • Amend the Department for Education’s Ministerial responsibilities to require the Ministers to be responsible for the provision and sustainment of school playtime
  • Prioritise unstructured play in school and in pandemic recovery.

A survey for the British Psychological Society (BPS) has revealed that more than three-quarters of parents of primary-aged children believe play is now more than or just as important as academic catch-up, amid fears the pandemic has reduced opportunities for their children to engage in playtime at school.

Almost all parents who responded to the BPS survey said access to playtime in the primary school day was important for their children (96 per cent). While 69 per cent were very or fairly concerned that the pandemic has impacted on the opportunities their children have for unstructured playtime at school

Yet research shows that since 1995, children’s break times in the school day have been reduced by 45 minutes a week, resulting in eight out of ten children now having less than one hour of physical activity per day.

Dr Dan O’Hare, co-chair of the BPS Division of Educational and Child Psychology, said: 

“It’s clear from the survey findings that play is valued highly by parents. We now need the government to take bold action and prioritise school playtime for our children’s development.

This isn’t an ‘ask’ for more playtime, it’s about reclaiming what has been lost. There needs to be adequate support, funding and resources for teachers who are already under increasing pressure to deliver the curriculum.”

The campaign will urge the government to put back 10 minutes each day onto school playtime, effectively reversing the years of decline by restoring 50 minutes spread over a week.

The BPS is calling for a focus on unstructured, child-led play in school, highlighting its benefits including aiding social development, problem solving and physical development as vital priorities alongside academic catch-up. 

Dr O’Hare added:

“We know that pre-pandemic children’s playtime has been eroded and now, against the landscape of ‘academic catch up’ after lockdowns, closures and pressure on children and schools, this issue is even more urgent.

Reduced opportunities to play will likely have a negative impact on the wellbeing and development of children, and it is vital that we don’t forget that children have also missed out on play with their friends, physical activity and fun.

It’s important to understand the role play has in children’s development to really understand why we are campaigning to get more play in the school day. Play is fundamental to children’s health and wellbeing. It can develop children’s skills in coping with challenge, facing uncertainty and how to be flexible and adaptable to different circumstances."

Dear Secretary of State,

I am writing on behalf of a coalition of organisations led by the British Psychological Society (BPS) to urge you to bring back an additional 10 minutes of lost play in the school day, restoring the playtime eroded in recent years and reversing the negative impact on children’s wellbeing and development.

School play offers significant benefits to children’s well-being and is essential for their social development. Despite the wealth of psychologically-informed evidence which demonstrates the value of play for school children, time assigned for play in the school day has been eroded in recent years.

Research from University College London’s Institute of Education has shown that between 1995 and 2019, the amount of break time afforded to children between the ages of 5 and 7 had reduced by 45 minutes per week. More recently, the pandemic, and the consequent school closures, has left many children without the opportunity to play at all.

The Government’s strategy for pandemic recovery presents an opportunity to re-evaluate priorities for children in school and to put play first to protect the mental well-being of school children. It is more important now than ever before to make sure school is a space that fosters the flourishing of children and allows for their social development.

The next stage of the Government’s recovery plan includes a review of time spent in school and college, the findings of which were scheduled to be set out this year. As part of this review, we urge the Government to:

  • Put back an additional 10 minutes of play into the school day, restoring the playtime eroded and reversing the negative impact on children’s wellbeing and development;
  • Amend the Department for Education’s Ministerial responsibilities to require the Ministers to be responsible for the provision and sustainment of school playtime;
  • Prioritise unstructured play in school and in pandemic recovery.

The removal of playtime can have serious implications for children’s development as demonstrated by the research from Institute of Education the UCL, which highlighted that break times are not only an opportunity to get physical exercise but provide valuable time to make friends and to develop important social skillsexperience that are not necessarily learned or taught in formal lessons.

The erosion of play can also generate further inequalities amongst children, as it has more profoundly negative impacts on children with less access to play stimulation at home, for reasons such as a lack of available space.

The prioritisation of play not only aligns with the psychological evidence, it has the support of the vast majority of parents. A survey conducted by YouGov, commissioned by the BPS, has revealed that 96% of parents said playtime in the school day was very important, and 79% said play was more important than or equally as important as academic catch-up for their children post-pandemic.

We believe that the welfare of children must be at the heart of the Government’s recovery strategy. The evidence produced by our psychologists demonstrates that school playtime is so much more than a well-deserved reward, it is an essential investment in children’s health and well-being.

Kind regards,

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