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New research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, (ATL), highlights the growing lack of appropriate outdoo...
New research by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, (ATL), highlights the growing lack of appropriate outdoor play areas on school premises. In an age when parents' worry about the safety of children playing outdoors, facilities in schools, specifically for very young children, often provide the only opportunity to reap the many benefits of outdoor play.

The survey, completed by 550 Foundation Stage workers, is a vital piece of evidence in understanding the effectiveness of the government's early years education policy. When asked which aspects of the Foundation Stage have been problematic, 61% identified 'use of the outdoor area' as inadequate. There are clearly severe limitations on the availability of suitable outdoor areas for Britain's schoolchildren to use.

Yet the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA)'s Foundation Stage guidance states that 'well planned play, both indoors and outdoors, is a key way in which young children learn with enjoyment and guidance.' Outdoor play is a fundamental component of early years education but the lack of facilities leaves this key activity sidelined.

Nansi Ellis, Education Adviser at ATL commented on these disturbing findings;

'In an age of high profile reports of abduction and 'stranger-danger', more children are kept indoors because of fears about safety. Under these circumstances outdoor play in schools and early years settings is vital and may provide the only regular experience of the outdoors.

'Outdoor play is an integral part of children's learning and must remain a priority. It provides opportunities and resources for teaching and learning in a safe and supervised external environment.

'Outdoor play gives children opportunities to develop friendships and learn about physical health and safety. Furthermore, it provides play on a larger scale, enabling children to develop the physical skills and control necessary for future learning. This may well be particularly important for boys.

'As more children engage in sedentary and solitary pursuits, outdoor play enables children to be much freer than is possible indoors, allowing them to explore boundaries and take risks. This is achieved whilst simultaneously contributing to the health and physical well being of children at a time when lifestyles of the young are becoming increasingly passive.

'The foundation stage was developed by the government, to ensure that young children would benefit from high-quality care and education. ATL members have found the lack of facilities for outdoor play to be one of the biggest problems in implementing the foundation stage. We urge a review on this in the coming year.'


1. Following the introduction of the new Foundation Stage in September 2000, ATL recognised the need for further information about how it is working in practice. 550 ATL members were quizzed in Autumn 2001 about the foundation stage and its implementation. Of those, 95% are teachers, with the largest proportion, 55% working in reception class. 25% work in nursery and almost 20% work in mixed age classes, often Reception and Year 1, occasionally Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 and some with nursery included as well. More than two-thirds of respondents have been working in early years for more than 6 years, with almost half of respondents working for longer than 11 years.

2. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing over 150,000 teachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.

3. ATL exists to protect and improve the status of teachers, lecturers and other professionals involved in delivering education to further their legitimate professional interests.

4. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC). It is unaffiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.

5. ATL members receive a regular magazine (Report) and news bulletins (Update) reflecting ATL policy and other issues affecting the education sector.

6. Further information and all press releases are available on ATL's website.

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