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HiAP 2019 - Partner Profile - Outdoor Play and Learning

Who are OPAL?


Outdoor Play and Learning are the UK’s leading service providers enabling schools to transform the quality of play experience for very child, every day. The programme was developed by a beacon local authority school improvement service and tested in 80% of its schools. OPAL combine skills from the school improvement, teaching and playwork sectors to enable long term cultural change in schools in the support of active and rich play every child. We provide the OPAL Primary Programme to schools, which consists of eight meetings delivered over 18 months and supplemented by a huge amount of experience and over 200 resources.

How has OPAL improved population health in the UK?


Yes, we have reached around 400,000 children across the UK. Schools report that whereas sport initiatives and the daily mile have a sustained impact for 10 to 20% of children at most, OPAL’s long-term approach to transforming play is increasing activity levels in the hardest to reach groups, including girls, overweight children and SEN. Children are consistently reporting increased well-being and happiness at OPAL schools.

What has been your greatest achievement to date?


Our greatest achievement is creating long term sustained behavioural change in many of our schools and their children in the UK and beyond. Anyone who is involved in activity projects knows this is extremely challenging. The £1.4 billion invested in sports participation after the Olympics failed to show any lasting improvements. We have achieved this without any grant funding or external investment.

The changes include many children being more active, more of the time and reporting increased happiness and wellbeing because of the quality of their play experiences. Some of our schools are still delivering the same high standard of improvement in play quality over ten years after the programme has finished. We are proud that we won the best active schools programme in Europe last year and that the Toronto District Education Board is rolling our programme out across the city.

And were there any measurable outcomes that accompanied this achievement


Rearson University were able to measure increased self-reported wellbeing in our Canadian project schools. UK heads completed our survey and all reported that 100% of girls and SEN children were more active as a result of the permanent changes in school culture. OPAL surveys before and after implementation of the programme have found consistent improvements children’s happiness and wellbeing at playtimes. We know there are consistent measurable outcomes from our ongoing work, observation in hundreds of schools, and our interviews with many children, teachers and heads, but up until now we have not had the level of research funding available to provide academic standard research. There is research from the Play Education Development and Learning Unit at Cambridge and from Sydney University that the kinds of play enabled by OPAL increase activity levels and the BMA have stated that active play is one of the best ways for children to stay healthy.

How many organisations/clients currently utilise the service/solution across the UK?


We currently serve around 85 new schools a year across the UK. This year we are increasing capacity to be able to serve 130. This will increase the number of children reached from 18,500 to 28,500.

We have the ability, knowledge, skills, experience and resources to create much more rapid growth with investment from outside partners.

Is there anything you would like to make delegates aware of ahead of the HiAP 2019 conference on 1st May?


OPAL have successfully exported the model to Canada where the Lawson Foundation have invested nearly $2M in a partnership between Earthday Canada, The Toronto District Education Board and OPAL. This is creating policy change in the TDSB and behavioural change in the children of Toronto. We are supporting International schools in France and have run successful projects in Australia and New Zealand.

What do you feel are the key points delegates need to digest when considering a partnership with OPAL?


OPAL have created an on-line version of the programme ready for investment in national or regional roll-out partnerships. We have a proven model, all of the resources and experience in up-scaling the programme. The amazing thing is nearly all of the investment is already there but just needs a change in approach and small amounts of the right investment.· Primary schools already own billions of pounds worth of assets in the form of their grounds which are chronically underused· Schools are training children to be inactive by not being resilient to hurt, dirt and weather · UK schools already pay around £250,000,000 for the supervision of play, they just do it badly· Play takes up 20% or 1.4 years of primary school life but there is no plan or leadership· Investment in an operational lead for play in every school would cost £50 per child, per year and could completely revolutionise activity and wellbeing in primary children.· Investment of £10 per child would enable every chid to access wellies, and a coat and storage so that they can access the billions of pounds worth of outdoor assets the schools currently ignore for 80% of the year.· Investment of £4500 per school would enable them to access the OPAL Primary Programme and create all of the policy, strategic, planning and organisational changes needed to create lasting cultural and organisational change.· Active happier playing children in every school will save the NHS millions of pounds while improving health and wellbeing for all.

If you would like to learn more about OPAL please visit http://outdoorplayandlearning.org.uk/

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