THE FIRST CLAIM - A FRAMEWORK FOR PLAYWORK QUALITY ASSESSMENT.
By Bob Hughes
Published by Play Wales
Baltic House, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, CF10 5FH.
Tel 029 2948 6050
ISBN 0-9540-130-18 Price pound;12.50
Educationists 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 disempowered and under continual scrutiny by different assessors using different measuring tapes and value bases to gauge 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. You weigh performance in scales or count it in cash registers and tick-boxes; in the saturation, you forget real human standards.
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 - playwork. 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 assessment model for education, informal or formal, to emulate. It shows by example that if skilled professionals, including 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 in 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 tool which will aid play workers (from initial volunteers to more experienced part-time staff, and now, with the publication of the advanced model, full-time career playworkers), it is important because of its organic, peer-led process of construction and testing.
No outside consultants have produced this, just the staff themselves. 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 basic, intermediate and advanced frameworks with a grading system for each.
It embeds these within a sophisticated understanding of different types of play activity among 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.
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 to take risks. The First Claim delicately reasserts the need to do this within a structured and safe environment with both a commonsense and a responsible consciousness.
For those familiar with more structured formal education curricula, the fact that there is a play work curriculum may come as a puzzling surprise.
In playwork, categories such as 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 published these important documents, should be congratulated by educationists everywhere for providing us all with an example of how we can reclaim control over our professional practice to improve quality.
It puts fun back into early-years' education and practitioners back in the driving-seat. It shows that such qualities can promote excellence where other methods of assessment fail.