St Saviour’s Junior School in Bath has been rated among the very top in the UK for its innovative playtimes, just one year after becoming part of a radical new programme aimed at improving pupils’ wellbeing and performance by boosting play.

The school is set to be awarded the Platinum Award from the prestigious national OPAL – Outdoor Play and Learning – Project – next month (November).

St Saviour’s joined OPAL as part of a new approach to playtimes – to ensure every single pupil enjoyed outdoor play and found something fun and rewarding to play with at every single playtime, returning to class happy and fulfilled.

Headteacher Joe Beament is passionate about creating an environment that is fun and exciting and keeps children healthy and active. He was interested by OPAL research showing that improving the quality of playtimes improved school performance across the board and crucially increased positive mental health in young children.

He explained, “Children spend about 20% of their primary years on the playground. This time can sometimes be hard for children and, with technology changing the lives of young people, play doesn’t always come naturally.

“We have used OPAL to give ownership back to the children, allowing them to play freely, get muddy and take risks. The culture of our playgrounds has changed dramatically over the last 12 months – children (and the adults) love every playtime; they are motivated to try new things, use their imaginations and build friendships.”

And OPAL meant involving the whole school community and wider community in Larkhall in making playtimes more fun and engaging.

Parents and local businesses were encouraged to donate a whole raft of household items to the school, ranging from old prams, bikes and scooters to building materials, old clothes and dressing-up materials, down to pieces of wood and even old tyres.The materials were then introduced into play sessions leaving the children to use them creatively in their play.
Parents are even invited regularly into the school to watch their children play and to take part.

Head of OPAL Michael Follett, who visited St Saviour’s Junior Church School to see how the scheme had progressed, and complete the final assessment, praised the atmosphere in the school’s playground as “calm, engaged and joyful”, adding, “It really felt like a place where every child was able to find the play that suited them and met their needs. It was very noticeable that children who were not into football or sport were very active, and that the children who preferred some quiet time at lunchtimes were able to find calm and comfortable spaces.”

“I have been to hundreds of school across the UK and can confidently say that quality of provision at St Saviour’s Junior Church School is among the very best in the UK, putting them in the top 0.5% in the UK based on our measures of quality, which are supported by 18 years of action research.”

Headteacher Joe Beament said the whole school community had helped to make OPAL a continued success. “The children, parents and staff have helped to make OPAL a huge success for us. Our research is already showing that it has been hugely successful in driving forwards school improvement and child development.”