This case study describes the approach taken to Wrexham’s first play sufficiency assessment, rather than the actual findings from that research.
From the outset Wrexham adopted a principled approach to addressing the Play Sufficiency Duty which included recognising people’s, and in particular children’s, subjective satisfaction as an indicator of sufficiency i.e. do children report feeling like they have access to sufficient time and space for playing?
Wrexham County Borough Council’s Play Development Team led on the play sufficiency assessment in partnership with Glyndŵr University, and were supported by our Performance & Development department. The following objectives were agreed and describe the aim of the assessment:
- To establish a baseline in terms of the percentage of children and young people who report satisfaction with their ability to access time and space for play as part of their daily lives.
- To identify representations of play sufficiency and the social and physical conditions that support this.
- To identify geographic areas lacking in sufficiency and the possible reasons for this.
- To use the data generated to develop indicators for the assessment of play sufficiency in other areas.
- To identify opportunities to promote time and space for play, in those areas lacking sufficiency, and recommend appropriate interventions.
To provide a framework for our research (and taking a lead from Stuart Lester and Wendy Russell’s Manchester Circles) we adapted Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems approach to consider the affordances for play presented by the home/family environment, how these are affected by and in turn affect the affordances within the child’s local neighbourhood, and how all of this is affected by the wider context within which the community exists.
Drawing on the work of Kytta, we applied the concept of constrained, promoted or free fields of action to each of our lines of enquiry to consider how these affect children’s ability to actualise (make real use of) the potential affordances for play within a local community. In this model a constrained field refers to time, space, access or attitudes that prevent children’s self-directed action; promoted fields that regulate children’s action (i.e. they promote particular forms of behaviour); and free fields allow for children’s free action. The children involved in the research came to understand these as red, amber or green fields of action.
To enable an effective and detailed assessment to be carried out mixed research methods were used to capture both quantitative and qualitative data, and to ensure rigour, credibility, trustworthiness, and to a degree; transferability in the information produced.
Quantitative research generated a large response rate which helped to establish the general levels of satisfaction regarding opportunities for play across the county borough.
The qualitative data provided greater detail enabling us to identify how people’s level of satisfaction is affected by localised social and physical conditions. To achieve this the following research tools were developed:
- Facilitated group work in schools using a mosaic approach – class of children from a primary school in each of six case study communities covering a total of 10 Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs). These communities were selected to represent varying levels of deprivation, population density, urbanisation, open space and play provision.
- Online questionnaires - for children, young people, parents, and playwork and childcare professionals.
- Focus groups - with parents, professionals and other marginalised groups.
- Community auditing of spaces for play – audit tool to consider accessibility and play value developed and applied to 49 sites across the six case study communities by playwork professionals. Twelve of these sites were cross-checked by children to compare results.
- Semi structured interviews - with lead professionals associated with policy areas identified in the play sufficiency statutory guidance.
- Mapping of demographics, spaces and service - data collected from across Performance & Development, Planning, Education, Family Information Service, Environment and Leisure.
One of the other principles of the research was to support children’s informed participation, and ensure that their opinions were given at least equal weight to that of adults. Consequently, during the analysis of data an emphasis was placed on the information provided by children, starting with the facilitated group work from schools and then comparing this with the results of children’s online questionnaires. This enabled the findings developed from the qualitative tools to be corroborated by those from the quantitative data providing further credibility of our conclusions. The themes drawn from this process were then cross referenced, corroborated and added to from the data produced by parents and other adults.
The time scale available to complete the assessment presented the most significant challenge. In particular there was insufficient time to develop and test our research tools and provide the research assistants with the level of training required to ensure consistency in their implementation. In addition the time pressures and time of year made working with schools and parents more difficult, and this led to gaps in data collection. Furthermore, although a wide range of partners were involved, there were examples when other local authority departments and some partner agencies were underrepresented, or a high level of effort was needed to ensure their engagement. Based on the findings from our research, this all provides further evidence of individuals and organisations struggling to prioritise time resources in support of play.
Wrexham’s first PSA concluded by stating that, whilst existing staffed and unstaffed play services and facilities needed to be sustained, in recognition of the significant contribution they make to play sufficiency, more of an emphasis needed to be placed on promoting children’s play within the wider public realm. This meant working better to cultivate the environmental and social conditions that support children’s access to time, space and permission for play within their local communities, on a daily basis. 12 priorities that support this approach were identified through the assessment process and were subsequently endorsed by the local authority’s executive board. These priorities have since provided a focus for work in securing sufficient time and space for children’s play.
For more information on Wrexham’s first play sufficiency assessment and the 12 priorities please visit Wrexham’s website and view the animated video.
 Play England (2008) Quality in Play. London: NCB
 Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979) The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
 Kytta, M. (2003) Children in Outdoor Contexts. Affordances and Independent Mobility in the Assessment of Environmental Child Friendliness, Helsinki University of Technology, Centre for Urban and Regional Studies.