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BPS launches Time to Play campaign as survey reveals high level of parents’ fears about effect of pandemic on primary school playtime

22 September 2021

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.

The findings come as the BPS is launching a Time to Play campaign to put more play back in the school day, restore the playtime eroded and reverse the negative impact on children’s wellbeing and development.

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."

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