Review

The First Claim…a framework for play work quality assessment. Published by Play Wales, 2001, pp 52. Available from Play Wales, Baltic House, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, CF10 5FH. Tel: 029 2948 6050. £12.50.

Educationalists have been bombarded for years now with different forms of assessment of their work. When visiting a part time youth worker recently I learned that their two evening sessions a week were subject to Ofsted inspections, Best Value reviews, Internal Youth Service Inspections, Social Service inspections and two national training accreditation bodies. The worker described themselves to me as feeling “assessinated.” The ‘assessination’ that has smothered much educational practice has often left professionals depowered and under continual scrutiny by different assessors using different measuring tapes and value bases to gauge their performance. Standards, competences, thresholds, targets and other mechanical devices have been imported often totally inappropriately from other occupations and have as a result demotivated and skewed professional practice.

How refreshing therefore in this environment to come across a brilliant form of self assessment developed in one of the most difficult areas of educational practice to measure – play work. The First Claim (a title taken from David Lloyd George’s statement that “The right to play is a child’s first claim on the community,”) represents the very best of a profession establishing its own peer led criteria for assessment and levels of performance. It sets a benchmark by which all other quality assurance schemes can be measured.

The First Claim creates a superb model for education, whether informal or formal, to emulate. It shows by example that if skilled professionals, including of course union representatives, trainers and officers, pool their resources openly and test their proposals constantly with practitioners, an occupation group can raise standards for itself without outside interference. It demonstrates also that the needs of ‘clients’, in this case, children, can be put first of even the most difficult quality assurance schemes.

This subtle and refined assessment framework by colleagues in Wales is not just important because it has produced a valuable product which will aid play workers from initial volunteers to more experienced part time staff, it is important because of its organic, peer led process of construction and testing. It is the profession speaking and asserting itself without the impositions of removed bureaucracies and inappropriate frameworks linked to agendas removed from the needs of children.

In its very succinct and accessible presentation The First Claim provides a basic and an intermediate framework with a grading system for both. It embeds these within an advanced understanding of different types of play activity amongst children and the role of these in physical, emotional and intellectual development. Furthermore it actively encourages the critical self reflection of play workers on their own play experiences and the use of themselves and their perceptions in creative play activity. One negative side of both the over regulation and inadequate regulation of activities with young people is that workers have not dared to help children take risks and new adventures. The First Claim delicately reasserts the need to do this within a structured and safe environment.

For those familiar with more structured formal education curricula, the fact that there is a playwork curriculum may come as a puzzling surprise. In play work categories like The Elements, Identity, Concepts and The Senses form the curriculum pattern. Group work and individual experience also are combined to assist a child’s development.

All recent research shows that organised play work benefits both social behaviour and academic attainment in later years as well as enhancing the enjoyment and self awareness of childhood itself. Play Wales which facilitated this important document should be congratulated by educationalists everywhere for providing us all with an example of how we can reclaim control over our professional practice to really improve quality on the basis of respected and well motivated professions. This document puts fun back into early years education and practitioners back in the driving seat.

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