Psychologists have warned schools that they should “never” punish pupils by taking away their break or lunch times.
Research published last month shows that now, at key stage 1, children have 45 minutes less break time a week than those of the same age did in 1995, while the time for children aged 11 to 16 had fallen by 65 minutes a week over the same period.
Also, 60 per cent of schools that responded to the survey reported that children might be forced to miss an entire break or lunch period due to misbehaviour or to catch up with work.
Now, the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) has stressed that unstructured play, led by children themselves, is critical to encouraging wellbeing and development.
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And it says opportunities to play at school are “particularly important” for children who may otherwise have their play restricted by poverty.
The benefits of break time
In a position paper, the society says: “Withdrawing break time opportunities for play in school should never be used as a punishment (e.g., for misbehaviour or completing unfinished work), nor the threat of withdrawal be used to control children’s behaviour.”
Gavin Morgan, chair of the DECP, said: “The benefits of play for children, including older children, have been well documented by educational psychologists, and it is crucial that this part of their development isn’t taken away as a punishment for misbehaviour or to complete unfinished work.
“Play improves physical and emotional wellbeing, and creates stronger relationships between peers, within families and across wider communities.
“The DECP strongly advocates for children’s fundamental right to play, both during their school day and in their lives.”
He said the organisation encouraged all educational psychologists to “use the influence they have to challenge practices which restrict or reduce access to play, and advocate initiatives which promote it”.
The society said that other factors that limit children’s access to play include the closure of play facilities, the increasing use of technology and social media, and worries about safety.
In its position paper, the society cites evidence about the benefits of play, saying it helps children to experience and manage emotions such as frustration, determination, achievement, disappointment and confidence.
It adds: “Schools can provide children with the access to time, space and permission for playing, which is an essential part of their everyday lives.
"This is particularly important for children who have their play restricted by factors such as poverty, domestic or environmental circumstances, recognising that with access to play opportunities children can enjoy their childhoods despite also experiencing financial and social disadvantage.”