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Last Updated: Monday, 17 April 2006, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Teachers want play-based learning
By Gary Eason
Education editor, BBC News website, at the NUT conference, Torquay

Boy with hula-hoop
The government agrees more learning could be play-based
A teachers' union wants everyone to spend more time playing, as a "crucial" lifelong learning tool.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers conference said children, in particular, learn through play.

They expressed concern at research showing that youngsters miss out on imaginative play "because of the demands of the curriculum" in England.

But the government says it also believes play has a key role in learning for younger children.

Coventry delegate Jane Nellist said the way the curriculum worked at present amounted to "state sponsored child abuse".

"Children have a right to play," she said.

"Wow! How exciting to have a resolution about play," said another early years teacher, Marilyn Evans.

She bemoaned the fact that, in June, she would have to set out what levels all the children in her charge had reached on the foundation curriculum - "117 tick-boxes per child".

The school had six electronic whiteboards, she said, which were exciting pieces of equipment - but the children also needed sand and water to play with, which did not get the same special government funding.

The resolution is relatively unusual for a teachers' conference, and in a way supplants the routine demand for the abolition of national curriculum tests for children.

It also complained at:

  • pressures for more formal teaching from age five

  • playing fields being sold off

  • lack of space in schools for play areas in classrooms

  • lack of after-school opportunities

  • fewer opportunities for informal play during the school day

  • limited play for teachers, too, due to "the lack of a proper work-life balance"

The resolution argues that play "has a crucial role for all, children and adults alike".

Lorraine Hunte from Croydon said that she had tried to research this aspect when she was writing her speech.

"However, when I Googled in 'adult play' you won't believe what came up," she said. "And I can't begin to tell you."


A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) said every organisation that wanted to succeed set targets - that was why national tests, targets and performance tables were important.

"The DfES believe that learning through play has a valuable role in education and learning for younger children," he said.

"Much of their education will be play based and will be about providing the experiences and activities they need to develop, grow and learn."

But the NUT leadership is not convinced, and backs the grassroots concerns.

General secretary Steve Sinnott said there was "increasing evidence of the damage to children's health and well-being" - with more self-harm among teenagers.

All policymakers ended up demanding more from the education system, he said.

"They start off by saying we need to free up schools and by the end they are specifying things which reduce time for play."

Nursery schools

The conference also expressed alarm at changes to government early years guidance for England.

This would have the effect of reducing the number of qualified teachers in state nursery schools and nursery classes within primary schools.

The government says the union is missing the point.

Its aim is to have graduate-level professionals who have been trained specifically to work with very young children - which it says the early years sector supports.

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