Play is the foundation of all human movement, physical literacy, physical activity, PE, and sport (and much more!)

Posted: Mon, 05 Feb 2024 16:17

Play is the foundation of all human movement, physical literacy, physical activity, PE, and sport (and much more!)

Play is vital for all children and young people. It's the main way they enjoy their daily lives, make friends and learn about the world around them. Through play children develop social, physical and cognitive skills, creativity, cultural awareness and resilience. They learn to manage risks, make decisions and develop their identities. Children play whenever and wherever opportunities arise. Play is different from adult-led or sport-based activities. When they play, children follow their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way. Play is essential for happy, healthy, capable and resilient children.

Through play, people develop capabilities that help them to solve problems creatively and to develop resilience. A playful mindset can also encourage learning new content and skills. Playful people are open to new experiences and are able to create and reimagine spaces and places for play and recreation. Playful adults are also often more active and better at coping with stressful situations. In fact, playful adults live approximately 10 years longer, on average, than less playful people!

Play and recreation brings diverse people together and improves the social and natural environment. Spaces and places for play and recreation enable safe and stimulating interactions between friends, families, communities, strangers and with the built and natural environment. For both children and adults, the social aspects of play and recreation are fundamental for relationship building with people and the environment.

Nature-based play helps to create a greater sense of empathy and respect for nature and can contribute to climate resilience. Investments to 'de-grey' public spaces. (paving, streets, roads, concrete etc.) can create climate resilient environments and open new spaces and places for diverse play and recreation opportunities.

Child and play-friendly spaces and places can also boost the economic value and long-term viability of the built environment. Public spaces where children, young people and families choose to visit signal better than any marketing material that an area is clean, safe, and fun. Retail, leisure, and businesses increasingly recognise that play and recreation is good for business

The role of government

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)1 declared that the right to play was a critical human right. The UNCRC requires governments to respect, protect and fulfil the right to play of all children through legislation, planning and budgets.

Specifically, Article 31 (leisure, play and culture)2 states; "Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities."

However, children are experiencing many barriers to play including traffic, crime, time spent on screens, social segregation, and the busy, structured lives of children and parents. As children's opportunities to play have reduced, there has been a growth in childhood obesity, physical and mental health problems.

Leadership is desperately needed. The future UK government, local authorities and civil society can together make sure that children and wider-society benefit from better play and recreation opportunities. As an example, the Scottish Parliament recently approved a bill to incorporate the rights and obligations set out in UNCRC into law.3

The ask

Simply, for the future government to introduce 'Play Sufficiency' legislation in England.

Play Sufficiency legislation for England would establish statutory guidance that Local Authorities must follow, in order to comply with a duty to assess for and secure sufficient play and recreation opportunities and to conduct regular play sufficiency reports.

Legislation should cover (but not be limited to) the following three key areas;

1. Spaces and places (spaces and places for play and recreation).

2. Workforce (qualifications, registration and regulation).

3. Provision (high-quality, inclusive play services).


An equivalent duty has been in place in Wales for over a decade,4 and in May 2023 a 'play sufficiency duty' was introduced in Scotland, leaving England lagging behind.

Save the Children UK published a report in Sept 2023 - 'What about the children? - How the UK's decision-makers considered children and young people during the COVID-19 pandemic'.5

The report outlines how Government failed to consider children and young people's needs during the pandemic, including their need for outdoor play, physical activity and social contact.

The report recommendations include (amongst others) a call for;

A national play strategy,

A clear ministerial lead, and;

A play sufficiency duty on local authorities.

All of which Play England support.

Play Sufficiency legislation for England

The current planning system in England is very weak with regards to children, specifically play and recreation opportunities. For example, the 2021 NPPF makes only one single mention of children (in connection with assessing housing needs). No other Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)6 guidance addresses children explicitly. By contrast, newts and bats are amongst the species covered by national planning guidance! Additionally, there has been a 'missed opportunity' with the Levelling up bill7 which could have potentially addressed this.

Due to the current weakness in England's planning system, children's physical and mental health is suffering as a result, and Play England are calling for radical change from the current lack of protection for children and play provision in England's planning system.

In Spring 2023, along with other wider-sector partners, Play England submitted a briefing to DLHUC Select Committee setting out the need for a parliamentary inquiry into children, young people and the built environment. This subject has never before been the focus of a select committee and has never been more needed. Therefore, it was a hugely significant step forward for children when the Inquiry was announced in November.8

A Recommendation from the Select Committee inquiry to introduce 'Play Sufficency' legislation would provide a powerful and a high-profile catalyst for much needed meaningful change in England.

Whilst every local authority in England is required to have a local plan, and key organisations must be consulted on this plan (e.g. Sport England9), spaces and place for play (playgrounds, adventure playgrounds, MUGA's, skate parks, parkour parks, outdoor fitness etc.) 'fall through the cracks', as there is no 'body' to speak for them... Play England would like to change that!

Therefore, we are asking for the future government to introduce 'Play Sufficiency' legislation in England, to bring children's right to 'play and recreation' into meaningful practice.

The introduction of Play Sufficiency legislation in England would ensure that all children, young people and families have access to enough time, space, opportunity and permission to play and recreation throughout all aspects of their daily lives. It would protect, provide and enhance opportunities for play and recreation at home, at school, and throughout the public realm (e.g., parks, streets, hospitals, prisons etc.) through an on-going process of research, action, repair, maintenance and enhancement. Success will depend on bringing together and involving a diverse range of governmental departments (DLUHC, DfE, DCMS, DfT etc.), national agencies and various sectors, as well as valued stakeholders and partners, continuously developing and deepening the appreciation of play and recreation, and how best to support it.


Play Sufficiency legislation for England would establish statutory guidance that Local Authorities must follow, in order to comply with a duty to assess for, and secure sufficient play and recreation opportunities and to conduct regular play sufficiency reports.

Legislation should cover (but not be limited to) the following three key areas:

1. Spaces and places

Bring England in-line with Wales and Scotland, but enhance to achieve a wider impact beyond play and recreation, to include the breadth of physical literacy, PE and school sport, physical activity, leisure and sport. Additionally learn from and implement from other international examples e.g.; The Neighbourhood Play System - Sport New Zealand.10

Work with Sport England (in their role of statutory consultee on planning applications via the NPPF) to ensure that play sufficiency, facilities, places and spaces are covered within the P12 Planning for sport principles,11 which is split into four categories: overarching, protect, enhance and provide, as well as more broadly across their current sector guidance documents.

The same approach should be taken with Active Travel England, in the newly established role of statutory consultee on planning applications via the NPPF.

This work with Active Travel England (and more broadly the DfT) should include clarification and formal definition of Play Streets, Street Play and School Streets (an example is Westminster City Council's Active Streets policy12).

Similarly, with Fields in Trust's Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play - Beyond the Six-Acre Standard13 to ensure a single framework for England, underpinned by the NPPF.

Ensure appropriate training and continued professional development of relevant professionals (landscape architects, urban planners, local government officers etc.) in planning, the assessment of planning applications and the procurement of spaces and places.

'Bring back the good old plays' on and in our streets, neighbourhoods, communities, parks, schools, hospitals - as well as indoor play, and adventure playgrounds, through child-centred and co-created design guidance, based on the principle of benefit-risk assessment (ISO 4980:2023 Benefit-risk assessment14) - a balanced, proportionate approach to 'safety' in children's play, sport, physical activity, recreation and many other related sectors.

Ensuring inequalities are addressed within spaces and places for play and recreation (e.g.; Make Spaces for Girls,15 Let's Play Fair - Scope UK16)

Ensure spaces and places for play and recreation are appropriately and robustly inspected and maintained, and that this is on a regulated statutory footing.

Ensure that 'children's' voice is heard within the NPPF, based on Article 12 (respect for the views of the child) of the UNCRC17 e.g.; The Lundy model of child participation.18

Ensure spaces and places for play and recreation are integral to and has visibility within a strategic framework for the future of facilities - as set out in Govt.'s 'Get Active' strategy, through the development of a National Vision for Facilities.

Establish an official 'brown tourist sign' for spaces and places for play and recreation with DfT (on the same basis as existing brown signs for sport/leisure centres, football/rugby/cricket grounds etc.)

Work with DLUHC to ensure that model byelaws19 for Parks and Open Spaces create a more permissive, supportive, active and healthier environment for play and recreation by removing restrictions such as 'No Ball Games' and 'No Cycling' (a 'Know Ball Games' law as part of wider Play Sufficiency legislation) and making all spaces and places for play and recreation 'smoke-free' in law.

2. Workforce

Align with the government 'Get Active' strategy, workforce aspirations by having a committed and energised workforce for delivering the right conditions for children, young people and families to engage with play and recreation.

Develop and re-establish a competent, dedicated and highly skilled workforce through education, training, and qualifications which are underpinned by professional standards to cover all aspects of the play workforce.

Robustly regulate the workforce and provider organisations via a national workforce registration scheme.

Support the development of Local Skills Improvement Plans with full national coverage to ensure these include play and recreation.

Increase meaningful, impactful volunteering opportunities that contribute to the overall objective of increasing play and recreation opportunities, tackling inactivity, disparities and health inequalities.

'Recognition' with Sport England (and other national bodies) to better facilitate and enable the 'play' sector to access and secure funding.

3. Provision

Ensure play in schools and community settings is protected to provide sufficient time, and space for play across the day e.g., before, during and/or after the school and placed on a similar footing as the School sport and activity action plan20 which supports teachers and schools to deliver 2 hours of high-quality PE and provide competitive and extra-curricular opportunities to both girls and boys.

School staff, teachers, lunchtime supervisors should receive regular adequate training focused on play and recreation, which is an important foundation for physical literacy, physical activity, sport, PE, and more broadly social, physical, and mental wellbeing.

Schools should provide play and recreation as 'homework' (social prescription) to get and keep children, young people, and families active, engaged and playing together.

Play should be the main focus of after school clubs (particularly, primary schools) and in community settings such holiday programmes (e.g. Holiday Activity and Food programme21) and hospitals (play therapy).

Cross-Departmental preparation for any future public health emergency ensures that the UNCRC 'right to play' is placed at the very heart of all policy-making for children, young people and families.

Ensure an increased understanding of the importance of play and recreation through high-quality, inclusive play provision by working with devolved, national and local government; and the voluntary, public and private sectors.


1. A summary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child' (

2. Article 31 (leisure, play and culture) (

3. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024 (

4. The Play Sufficiency Assessment (Wales) Regulations 2012 (

5. What about the children? ( 2023.pdf)

6. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) - Linkedin (

7. Policy: A missed opportunity to make planning work for health and wellbeing (

8. Children, young people and the built environment - Levelling Up Committee launches inquiry (

9. Sport England - Linkedin (

10. The Neighbourhood Play System (

11. Planning for sport (

12. ActiveStreets Programme (

13. Guidance for Outdoor Sport and Play (

14. ISO 4980:2023 Benefit-risk assessment (

15. Make Space for Girls campaigns for facilities and public spaces for teenage girls (

16. Let's Play Fair: inclusive playgrounds (

17. A summary of the un convention on the rights of the child (

18. The Lundy model of child participation (

19. Model byelaws (

20. School sport and activity action plan (

21. Holiday activities and food programme 2022 (

Tags: Play #STT2024Manifesto, Policy, Sport


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