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The OPAL Primary Programme

Back in February 2009, I visited a primary school just north of Bristol with Michael Follett, a board member of Play England. About ten minutes into walking around the playground during the lunch break I stopped, turned and said:

"What have you done???"

It sounded different. It was a damp, Tuesday lunchtime. The sound was a busy hum of happy, satisfied children. Over 400 of them, playing together, everyone engaged and busy, whether building dens, dragging their friends around in bread crates, digging in the sand, making hammocks from a net or relaxing with their friends. There were some children lying on their backs and watching the clouds, whilst others were playing in a giant sandpit. There were some ball games but they didn't dominate the space.

The head teacher told us he had no more bullying, far fewer accidents, children returning ready to learn in the afternoon - and no children waiting outside his office for the inevitable playground fallout conversations. He quietly pointed to the children he used to see several times a week, calling out praise to some.

"This is OPAL" said Michael simply...

In 2011 Michael set up his own CIC - OPAL CIC - and started offering the OPAL Primary Programme beyond South Gloucestershire. He taught the method to a few more intrepid play entrepreneurs - Neil Coleman, Ingrid Wilkinson and Kurti Birkenbeil - and they started supporting schools across England.

Fast forward to 2024 and now 43 mentors are supporting schools across the UK and around the world, making play for millions of children much better, every single day.

In summer 2021 Michael gave me a call and a few weeks later, Outdoor People became the proud franchise holder for East London and East Kent. 

There are now three of us mentors - myself, Beth and Gráinne - supporting almost 100 schools and more every week. These range from tiny inner city schools to sprawling suburban schools. Our smallest has 50 pupils and our largest almost 1000. About half have no field - a few have huge fields.

All of them have seen their accident rates fall, behaviour improve and - most importantly - happier children who now love coming to school, every day.

Morningside Primary in Hackney (above) and Hernhill CofE Primary in Kent below, are two of them.

When I founded Outdoor People in 2014, it was with the mission to make it easier to get outdoors for children, the schools they attend and the families they live with.

The OPAL Primary Programme is the most effective tool I have ever seen for ensuring children get to go outside to play every single day in environments that can meet all of their play needs and with adults that understand how to foster the right environments.

We work very closely with schools over an 18 month period, and then following their first award, we support them with a more light touch programme to sustain their great playtimes.

 If you would like to know more about this fantastic programme and book a free introduction, then sign up through OPAL's website LINK.

You can visit a current OPAL school by signing up to one of our visits HERE.

And see other OPAL schools in action over on the the OPAL PlayTime YouTube channel

OPAL CIC just sponsored the launch of the Plan for Play in Parliament, a joint statement calling on all parties to insist schools have a plan for the 20% of their school day that is playtime. 

Screenshot 2024-03-18 at 09.28.44 (2)

The OPAL programme is by far the best way to develop the systems, knowledge and policy infrastructure to ensure that your school can plan for every child to have a great playtime, every day. 

Two evaluations - winning the Play award from Children and Young People Now and many, many positive judgements from Ofsted, from teachers and most importantly from children, prove it.

Cath Prisk
CEO Outdoor People & OPAL Mentor