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The hard evidence: the OPAL Primary Programme works


The OPAL Primary programme was developed by Michael Follett, who then

founded OPAL CiC. More details about the background and success stories can be found on the main website here: 


Children attend primary school for seven years. Of those seven years, around 1.4 years will be spent outside actively playing, making `playtime’ by far the most dominant element within the curriculum. Unlike sport and PE lessons, children’s active play can claim 100% engagement, provided it is delivered with the right expertise, consistency and understanding of children’s social, emotional and environmental needs. 

There is an growing body of research to show outdoor play is critical to children’s social, emotional and academic development.

Independent evaluation of OPAL programme

Independent evaluation of the OPAL Primary programme by Dr Wendy Russell and Dr Stuart Lester from Gloucester University and Dr Owain Jones from the University of West of England. Key findings show that the benefits of OPAL include:

  • Positive changes to the school’s understanding and position on play (particularly in relation to risk, adult control and all-weather play)
  • Imaginative and creative alterations to the school grounds in order to open up more possibilities for play
  • Changes in children’s play patterns, greater variety of play behaviours, and wider use of time, space and materials for child-initiated outdoor play
  • Increased children’s enjoyment of play times with an associated reduction in perceived disruptive behaviour
  • Teaching staff who valued the instrumental outcomes of the enhancement of playtime, particularly in terms of learning and social development.

Supporting School Improvement Through Play Play England, National Children’s Bureau (2011). https://outdoorplayandlearning.org.uk/home/for-schools/research/

Play and the effect on attainment, health, wellbeing 

  • Getting outdoors results in better learning outcomes Outdoor learning can create improvements across all academic disciplines, helping with problem-solving and enthusiasm for learning; and can contribute to improved test scores and grade averages.
  • Outdoor play gets kids more active When engaged in play, children will stay active for long periods of time and are more active outdoors compared to indoors. Studies done using GPS tracking in the UK show that children are more than two-and-a-half times more active when outdoors compared to indoors (Cooper et al 2010)
  • Outdoor learning and play creates healthier kids Children come to school more often, can concentrate better, physically sit at their desks for longer, can see better and can learn more. Active free play is also critical in helping children develop balance, co-ordination and improved motor fitness.
  • Time spent outdoors boosts mental health Children feel better and perform better after they have been outdoors. Getting outdoors helps children feel calmer, helps process their day and builds the holy grail of capabilities: resilience.
  • Children who are outdoors more are more likely to develop a connection to nature and grow up wanting to protect the environment A 1999 study of 1,259 students from nine countries found that direct experience with nature was more likely to lead to pro-environmental behaviour than simply studying about nature from books (Packer,1999 in Ballantyne & Packer, 2009 .

From Muddy Hands and Dirty Faces... to Higher Grades and Happy Places: Outdoor learning and play at schools around the world Cath Prisk and Dr Harry Cusworth (2018).

A comprehensive literature review of the benefits of outdoor play and learning, produced by Outdoor People for Outdoor Classroom Day.  

Find out more about the OPAL Primary programme and leave an inquiry on the main site: https://outdoorplayandlearning.org.uk/contact/ 

Photo credit: Cath Prisk on her third visit to an OPAL school in 2010