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OPAL 2021 - 2022

Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL)

OPAL allows children to play outside all year round. At St Mary's we recognise that play is about learning and is such an important part of school life. The children develop their language, learn how to share, improve skills and develop friendships. 


Our aim is for children to play outside more often, have access to most of the school grounds all year round and to provide children with a variety of loose parts with which they can direct their own play.

Social Emotional Learning seems to be an area children now need to develop since the lockdowns. SEL can be broken down into:

  • Self-Awareness.
  • Self-Management.
  • Social Awareness.
  • Relationship Skills.
  • Responsible Decision-Making.

OPAL helps children to develop these skills, through educated risk taking, working together, working with each other,  and keeping themselves and others safe.


An example of this is:

children can climb trees

However, they are taught to assess the risks. We discuss, a reasonable height, so if there is a fall the injury is minor, the size of the branches and to have an adult near by and never do this alone.

Ana Ardelean: A Rationale for Teachers

Ana Ardelean is a lecturer in Childhood Development and Playwork at Leeds Beckett University and co-author of The Case for Play in Schools This is a public, ...

Ben Tawil: The power of play to the whole school community

Ben Tawil is Co-Director at Ludicology, children's play consultant, researcher and OPAL Mentor. Ben summarised the surprising, shocking and downright funny r...


Children in British primary schools spend 20% or 1.4 years of their school attendance in play and yet many schools have no strategic or values-based approach to play across all ages. The Outdoor Play and Learning (OPAL) Primary Programme is a mentor-supported school improvement programme. It addresses all of the areas schools must plan for if they want to strategically and sustainably improve the quality of their play opportunities. The OPAL Primary Programme is the only programme of its kind that has been independently proven to sustainably improve the quality of play in British primary schools. Research shows that play contributes to children’s physical and emotional health, well-being, approach to learning and enjoyment of school. Given the importance of play in children’s lives and current concerns about children’s health and opportunity to access time and space to initiate their own play outdoors, there are considerable benefits for children, parents, school and the wider community from participating in OPAL's programme. The OPAL Primary Programme supports schools in developing a cultural shift in thinking about and supporting children’s play. Its success comes from a series of interrelated actions undertaken with the specialist support from the OPAL mentor. This embeds play into school’s policies and practices and establishes clear guiding principles and strategies for initiating changes at playtimes. The results can be transformational and - at best – spectacular and show progress even in more challenging school environments.

Amazing Primary Playtime at St Michael's OPAL Platinum School

This video was shot over one 45 minute playtime at St MIchael's Catholic Primary School in Surrey after 18 months of working with OPAL Outdoor Play and Learn...

The programme works in all kinds of schools regardless of the amount or quality of outside space available. OPAL has clients in central London and in tiny rural villages. It has worked well in special schools and pupil referral units. The OPAL Primary Programme was developed in response to demand from schools for help in resolving issues at playtime, including boredom, high levels of accidents and playground incidents, lack of respect for supervisors and a constant stream of low-level behaviour problems, as well as a desire to improve the quality of children’s play experiences in school, and a desire by school leaders to pursue excellence in all areas of schools’ performance. The programme was conceived and developed by Michael Follett over 10 years ago while working as a School Improvement Advisor within South Gloucestershire Council’s Learning and School Effectiveness Team, building on his experience as a playworker, teacher and play strategy officer. Testing of the programme over several years in around 70% of South Gloucestershire’s primary schools provided the evidence that the only effective and sustainable way to improve play for the majority of the children is through long-term cultural change within schools. As a result, each segment of the OPAL programme has been developed to meet a different stage in the journey of this culture change.

So, what does OPAL look like at St Mary’s?

Our new Mud Kitchen!

Thank you for your kind donations and building skills


Please see below - we are always on the look out for more stuff! 

Loose parts are any materials that can be easily moved, combined, and incorporated into children's free play.

Please don’t buy anything especially, or donate precious items – these items will be very well used and will get muddy!

Please leave any donations in the area by the bike shed, next to the green PTFA container. We will check each item against risk criteria to ensure they are safe enough to be played with.