Play Strategy

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:05 pm on 15th March 2006.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:05 pm, 15th March 2006

The next item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3890, in the name of Ken Macintosh, on the importance of play. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes calls from Play Scotland and Barnardo's for a play strategy that recognises the right of all children in East Renfrewshire and across Scotland to a safe, challenging and accessible play environment; is aware of the public and political concerns over levels of obesity, mental health problems and anti-social behaviour amongst children and young people; notes that lack of opportunity to play is a contributing factor to these problems; is concerned that traffic growth, loss of open space and fears over safety are further restricting play opportunities, and therefore believes that play should be supported with a vigour that reflects its importance.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 4:15 pm, 15th March 2006

I begin by thanking colleagues and all the organisations that have shown their support for this debate, which is an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to discuss the importance of play. The subject is rarely debated at a political level, but play is increasingly recognised as essential for our children's development—not just for their physical well-being but for their mental health.

We must be careful as adults, as parents and as a society that we do not restrict the freedom, opportunity and room for children to play. There is a real danger that that is exactly what is happening, inadvertently or otherwise. I believe that the right way to counter that is by pushing play up the political agenda and developing a national play strategy. Given the concerns that we now face over the rising level of obesity and the particular importance that we give to tackling antisocial behaviour, a clear statement of national policy is required.

The physical benefits of play have long been recognised. Indeed, unstructured play is second only to physical education in relation to young people burning off calories. It is important to make the distinction between play and PE. PE and sport are vital contributors to our children's health and well-being, but the benefits of play go well beyond the physical. Play is an essential part of children's emotional, social, intellectual and creative development. It is through play that children express their impulse to explore, experiment and understand. As one of the children who was quoted by Barnardo's in its play strategy for Scotland put it,

"play is what I do when nobody is bossing me around".

It has recently been suggested that play can help children to learn foreign languages. That certainly rings true from the experience of my son, who has been learning French in primary 2. The school has set up a French cafe, where children may have whatever they like, as long as they order it in French. As members can imagine, it did not take the pupils long to learn "un gâteau", "une glace", "des bonbons" and "de la limonade"—although not the French for "healthy eating initiative". I have another local example. The family link, or family learning, co-ordinator at our local school has demonstrated through example the importance of families coming together through play and having fun, engaging parents with their children and their children's education.

There are too many restrictions limiting our children's freedom to play, including the television and video game culture, public fears over safety and the threat to young people from traffic. One thing that we can directly influence is the demands that are placed on children by an overbearing curriculum. Schools often measure achievement and attainment in terms of exam results, and they always find time to test our children at all ages. They can also restrict the amount of free time that young people enjoy.

In East Renfrewshire, schools are learning the advantages of allowing children, certainly in primary 1 and 2, room to engage in activities through play. Instead of there simply being a transition for children from the freedom of nursery school to sitting at a desk all day, pencil at the ready, schools are being encouraged to adopt a continental approach and to allow time within the school day for play. As colleagues on the Education Committee heard during our pupil motivation inquiry, it is not just about fun and—heaven forbid—allowing children to enjoy themselves; it is also about learning to focus, concentrate and think.

Away from school, there is reason to be concerned that play spaces are becoming less accessible. Roads are increasingly off limits, and play areas, instead of being havens for young people, can be dangerous places, frequented by older youths who leave behind the debris associated with alcohol and drug abuse. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to push play up the political agenda is the huge importance that we place on tackling antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour does not affect just young people, but there is no doubt that the flip side of demanding more respect from our young people is giving them the necessary freedoms and opportunities to grow and develop.

Just as there are clear benefits to developing resilience and self-confidence among children through play, the opposite can also be true. We need to recognise the increasing evidence that depriving children of play opportunities has severe consequences. Members who read the excellent briefing entitled "Best Play", which was produced by the main play organisations, might have seen the reference by researchers to "battery children", as they are described.

The briefing states that battery children, who are perhaps denied play opportunities because of traffic or parental fears, are

"often aggressive and whine a lot ... are emotionally and socially repressed, find it difficult to mix, fall behind with their school work and are at a much greater risk of obesity."

It should be of particular concern to us that it is often in our most deprived communities that children lack a safe, challenging and accessible play environment. A national play strategy would challenge those shortcomings.

Where local play strategies have been adopted, the improvements have been dramatic. My colleague Janis Hughes has previously highlighted the tremendous achievements in Toryglen. The whole community—adults and children—has been involved in upgrading successfully three local parks and in developing a whole new play provision between two sets of high flats. That development has in turn spurred on the development of a community garden club. I am sure that the minister is aware of that initiative, given that he has an interest in the area. The project has put play at the centre of regeneration. It is also notable that the project, which was led by Barnardo's Scotland, involved all the community groups in the social inclusion partnership—local nurseries, Glasgow City Council, the police, primary schools and the health service.

There is no shortage of good practice. It is certainly worth noting that the National Assembly for Wales published its play strategy only last month. We can learn from its example. The Assembly's strategy places a statutory duty on local authorities to provide for children's play needs. We can also promote the use of traffic calming measures and home zones within existing and new developments.

I believe that, to start with, our focus should be on providing small-scale local play areas, prioritising the most deprived communities and supporting projects that have been developed in consultation with local people and which address local needs.

Barnardo's Scotland and Play Scotland have shown us the way to develop a play strategy. I was struck by how many organisations, including Skills Active, Capability Scotland, Save the Children and the Scottish Pre-school Play Association, have taken the time in recent weeks to contact members on the subject of play. I pay tribute to a Glasgow-based organisation, to play or not to play, which has petitioned the Parliament in the past few weeks. The overwhelming support that members have given the motion suggests to me that this is an idea whose time has come. It is time for play.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 4:22 pm, 15th March 2006

I congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing the debate and on his excellent exposition of the case for a play strategy for Scotland. It is clear that our policy development in this area is lagging behind that of other comparable nations, most notably Wales, where the Assembly has produced an action plan to implement its policies, which we would do well to emulate.

The core aim of the Assembly's plan is to ensure that all children and young people have access to a range of play, leisure, sporting and cultural activities, regardless of their home background and family circumstances. In so doing, it fulfils article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It is to our shame that we are far from meeting that obligation. One of the main reasons for that has been our failure to listen to what our children have been telling us. Kathleen Marshall, Scotland's commissioner for children and young people, last month sent us all the results of a consultation that she had conducted with 16,000 young people. Top of their list of priorities for action was a plea for more things to do and for activities that are affordable and accessible to all, including those with disabilities, and which are designed by young people themselves in co-operation with trusted adults. Young people said that they wanted to be recognised as an integral part of their communities and to have access to community facilities. Surely that is not too much to ask. Save the Children, in one of the many excellent briefings that we received for this debate, points to successful projects of that kind, which have met expressed needs.

Other issues need to be addressed as well. Ken Macintosh said that opportunities for unstructured play had been reducing because of a combination of factors. Parental fears about child safety have been growing and the availability of local open space has been shrinking.

When no less an authority than Walter Smith, our national football team's manager, visited the Parliament last year, he bemoaned the loss of traditional means of developing football skills and talent, such as kickabouts in the streets and parks.

Children living in poverty are particularly disadvantaged by the shrinking of free, locally available play spaces. The negative impact on children's development cannot be overstated. I believe that play deprivation is a key factor in the rising number of children who arrive at primary school with social, emotional and behavioural problems. They are the battery children to whom Ken Macintosh referred.

There is an overwhelming case for early intervention strategies and the provision of universal services in the pre-school years, from birth onwards. The Scandinavian model of comprehensive pre-school play, care and education services provides a suitable template for consideration. Unfortunately, after an encouraging start with the extension of pre-school provision, the Executive's early years strategies appear now to have stalled. I hope that the minister will address that concern, as it relates to the motion, when he sums up at the end of this important debate.

Photo of Eleanor Scott Eleanor Scott Green 4:26 pm, 15th March 2006

I am pleased to speak in the debate as the subject is dear to my heart and I whole-heartedly endorse the motion. I concur with everything that Ken Macintosh said in his opening speech.

When I started jotting down ideas for the debate, I concentrated, at first, on physical activity and the need to plan our communities so that there is space for children to play spontaneously, so that they can be active not only in an organised setting but in their everyday life. However, as I was writing, I realised that my speech was starting to resemble a rerun of that I gave during the recent childhood obesity debate, which I did not want. The briefing from Play Scotland, which all members received, lists other side effects of a lack of play opportunities, which include not only issues relating to physical health and fitness, but poor motor skills, an inability to deal with stress and trauma and an inability to manage and assess risk.

Then I thought of a story about a friend of mine who lives with her partner in a croft on the west coast. Last summer, her two nephews from the central belt visited for the holidays, for the first time without their parents. They are active boys who are involved in lots of sporting activities and whose parents spend a lot of time ferrying them between sports centres, football pitches and so on in the urban area in which they live. My friend was confident that they would have a good holiday, although she was a bit worried about safety, because at one side of the croft there is the sea and at the other there are the mountains. She thought that she would spend the holiday pinning them down and stopping them running off.

However, it was not like that. They had a great, active holiday but they always had an adult with them because, although they are not couch potatoes by any means, all the activities that they have engaged in have been facilitated by adults. I was struck by what my friend said to me: "When I went to look for them, they were always where I last saw them." The boys are well adjusted, healthy, nice and physically fit. They are definitely not the battery children that Ken Macintosh mentioned. Yet, something that was once a part of childhood is missing from them. I think that that is quite serious because what is missing or being stifled is a sense of adventure and exploration. If we want people to grow up to be adventurous, inquisitive and curious in the way that leads to scientific discovery and entrepreneurial and enterprising activities, we must not inadvertently stifle that sense of adventure in our children, which is where such things start.

That is why the debate is important. We are not talking only about physical fitness and stopping people getting fat and unhealthy, although that is important, but about the other skills that a child once learned spontaneously as part of the life of a child in Scotland, without any adult direction or input. We have to consider some sort of redesign of the life of a child in Scotland and a redesign of the communities in which that life is lived. At the moment, something that should be nurtured is being stifled. That bodes ill for future generations.

Photo of Ms Rosemary Byrne Ms Rosemary Byrne SSP 4:30 pm, 15th March 2006

I welcome the debate and congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing it. I am particularly pleased that his motion

"welcomes calls from Play Scotland and Barnardo's for a play strategy" for Scotland. We need a play strategy if we are to move on and allow children the facilities that they require in today's society. Eleanor Scott gave a good description of the ways in which we hold our children back because we are afraid to allow them to stretch their wings, move away from the home and the local area and do things for themselves. They do not get the opportunities that we had as children—opportunities to explore and to do other things—so we have to make those opportunities. A play strategy is an important factor in that.

I want to say a little about children's health. I might go over the ground that we covered in the recent debate on obesity, but health is important. Figures published by the British Heart Foundation show that a third of Scottish 12-year-olds are overweight and that more than 1 in 10 are severely obese. The national child health surveillance programme predicts that, by 2020, 50 per cent of Scottish children will be obese. That is a stark figure. A play strategy will go some way towards solving that problem. I will not go into the other issues that we covered in the debate on obesity, but we should note them.

Children need access to a range of facilities for play and for sport. Play and sport are not the same, but one goes with the other. Research shows that, if children get a sense of achievement from what they do, they will be confident children with good self-esteem. If we give our children a sense of achievement in play and in sport, we do them a great service. At the moment, deprivation means that some children do not get the access that they should get. We ought to do something about that and ensure that children have access and choices. Children can play in a swimming pool as well as swimming. They can play on a football pitch. When they are playing about with a ball, they are still learning skills.

A play strategy for Scotland could lead to improvements, not only in our children's physical health but in their mental health and their social and personal development, because those things are enhanced by play. The Mental Health Foundation has reported that the increasingly limited amount of time that children spend playing outside or attending supervised play projects is one cause of the increase in mental ill health in young people. Our couch potato culture is not good for children's mental or physical well-being.

Play is about allowing children to express themselves freely, to interact with others and to develop their own ideas and interests. They need to be able to explore, to experiment and to solve problems. It is particularly important for children to have opportunities to solve problems because that helps prepare them for the world outside and the lives that they will live.

There is lots more that I wanted to say, but I am running out of time. Barriers to children's play are mainly related to safety. Road safety is one issue, but there are other concerns about safety. We know that children do not get abducted every day, but parents still worry about such things. I worry when I allow my granddaughter out to play. If we have safe areas where they can play, we will all feel better. I hope that we will get a play strategy.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:34 pm, 15th March 2006

I am happy to take part in the debate and I congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing it. I am glad that the Parliament rescheduled the debate; despite the sky falling in, we are still in favour of play. That is good.

Normally, my heart sinks when I see the word "strategy". I am not a strategy person. However, it may be the right word in this case. We certainly need a play policy, priority or whatever word people like to use, because play is important.

In addition to some of the good points that other members have made and the fact that play gives people physical exercise and so on, I will emphasise two aspects, the first of which is interaction with other people. In imaginative games, people relate to one another. In a playground, children must take their turn on the swings or the chute. Educating children—in my case grandchildren—to do that is an important social aspect that they will miss out on if they do not go in for play.

Play is a vital part of life but, at least in this country, its importance has been recognised only relatively recently. As some of the papers that we have been sent say, play does not involve just very small children. Some of the concrete blocks outside the Parliament's normal home bear clear marks that—the local police tell me—show how much they are used for skateboarding, because Edinburgh has no proper skateboarding facilities—I am sure that the situation is the same in other places. More scope should be available for such informal play activities.

I will plug the Nancy Ovens Trust. I declare an interest as a member of the trust, but none of the trustees makes any money from the trust, so I think that I am allowed to plug it. Nancy Ovens taught at what is now Moray House school of education and was a pioneer of play going back 30 years or so. She was a voice in the wilderness for quite a while until a gradual movement towards play started. Even when I met her on the Lothian association of youth clubs committee, which involved a group of people who were motivated to help youth clubs, she was slightly laughed at for her enthusiasm for play, but she gradually won us over.

The Nancy Ovens Trust gives awards annually to play schemes and playgrounds that specially reflect children's input in their design and management. Several awards are given for imaginative layout and all that. Members should encourage their local playgrounds to apply. In the past two years, people all the way from Caithness down to East Lothian and from Coatbridge, Edinburgh, Lochaber and all over have won awards. The awards are a way to recognise that children should be involved as much as possible in the creation of play areas that stimulate their imagination, managerial activity and social interaction, rather than our telling them to go out and play somewhere.

Play is an important subject and I am glad that it has been raised. I hope that we can have a strategy or something else; whatever it is, we should get stuck into it.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative 4:38 pm, 15th March 2006

I welcome the comments of Mr Donald Gorrie and particularly those of Mr Ken Macintosh on lodging this extremely important motion on behalf of Barnardo's about the importance of play. I also congratulate Mr Macintosh on an excellent speech. He is right to highlight play as a subject to which the Executive should give priority, especially given the threat to the integrity of not only playing fields, but recreational sites and areas for leisure, from planning development that could encroach on them.

Recently, Stirling councillors were presented with a 700-signature petition by local campaigners who oppose the Labour regime's plans to axe the £150,000 play projects budget. I am certain that Mr Macintosh would wish to dissociate himself from that policy of Stirling Council's Labour regime.

We will not have to vote on the motion's wording. That may be just as well, as the motion might inadvertently have greater public expenditure implications than expected. That is because it calls for new statutory rights with corresponding duties on local authorities. We wish to know not only how practicable the proposals are, but what their full consequences would be. However, that in no way detracts from Mr Macintosh's public-spirited contribution in focusing on an issue that, in the interests of our nation's children, must be given increased priority. In principle, he is absolutely right about that. After all, article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that states must

"recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts."

It has been found that play accounts for the greatest proportion of the physical activity of children and young people. Given the increasing concern for the health of Scotland's population, play—particularly outdoor play—offers a vital opportunity to establish healthy lifestyles. The cost to the Scottish health service of dealing with obesity is currently some £171 million. That figure is likely to rise if levels of physical activity are not addressed urgently. If good practices are established early in life, they are likely to be retained well into adulthood.

Executive initiatives such as the physical activity strategy and health-promoting schools are to be commended, but a more flexible and creative approach is required to secure informal outdoor play. For example, voluntary groups could be encouraged to help to clean up and supervise play areas. Play spaces could also be created in areas of urban derelict land. Furthermore, a pilot project on outdoor play in Falkirk in 2005 found that active school co-ordinators had reconsidered their remits because they had realised that play was an increasingly forgotten element. Training, guidance and support are definitely important.

It appears that the Executive does not as yet have any plans to develop a strategy, so I join Mr Macintosh in asking why that is the case. After all, the Executive has innumerable strategies on countless subjects. Why does it not have a strategy on an issue that is so important to our country's future?

I congratulate Mr Macintosh on having had the moral courage to raise an issue that for too long has been swept under the carpet. When the minister responds, I hope that he will genuinely go as far as he can within the bounds of what is reasonable and possible.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:42 pm, 15th March 2006

I am not quite sure why it takes moral courage to raise the issue of play, but I will take Lord James's word for it.

I find myself agreeing with Donald Gorrie—today must be my agree-with-Donald-Gorrie day—as I, too, do not like the word "strategy". The word is cumbersome and strategies tend not to go anywhere. I ask that we find another word.

I also agree with Ken Macintosh—I congratulate him on securing the debate—that there is a clear distinction between PE and play. I loathed PE and would not go near it, but I loved play and could not be taken away from it. Play is spontaneous exercise of both mind and body. It involves imagination. Regrettably, children nowadays do not have the fun that we had at that age. When there were no parked cars, the street was our playground.

I do not believe that parks provide a cure-all. Children tend not to like parks, not just because they can be the province of thugs, but because they offer more structured play. Children want to play, there and then, outside the door. Perhaps we should start by getting the parked cars off the road.

I recognise that we must protect our children, but I agree with Rosemary Byrne that our society must have a more balanced approach to stranger danger. The main danger to children comes from the kent family friend, the stepfather or other member of the family rather than from the stranger. That needs to be addressed.

Another issue that needs to be examined is litigation. I find it extraordinary that children in some primary schools are not allowed to play on the playground tarmac for fear that they will fall and hurt themselves and the school will be sued. What crazy world are we in? When I was a child, it was a badge of honour to have a skint knee, a grazed arm or a bloody nose. Once indoors, one got a cuddle and a cup of tea—or milk or lemonade or something—but such injuries were part of life. It seems that we do not let our children have minor injuries any more.

However, perhaps my biggest bugbear is the commercialisation of play. Why is so much money pitched at making people think that their child can be happy only if it has the most expensive toy or play frame in the garden? The best play is usually free and shared with other people spontaneously on the street.

I am interested in the list that Play Scotland kindly provided to us. One consequence of the increase in childhood obesity is that type II diabetes is becoming an epidemic among children.

Play can teach children to socialise and negotiate. As I said earlier to Adam Ingram, the children on my street always used to have a fight with the children in a nearby avenue about who would have a bonfire on 5 November. It was nearly war, but we knew that the issue would have to be resolved at the end of the day, a bit like the United Nations. After a bit of posturing, we used to put the two bonfires together and have a big combined one. Those were important lessons for children to learn. Lessons about bullying can also be learned when children play.

I draw attention to the confidence that children get from play, particularly if it is dangerous play. I point out to Ken Macintosh that there must sometimes be an element of danger for children in play. I remember walking along beams on rooftops—if my mother had known about it she would have gone white. That was daredevil stuff, but it was about challenging ourselves physically and mentally. Of course there are limits, but an element of danger is needed in unstructured play. Another element is imagination. Children do not need expensive toys—they can invent it all for themselves. If they have enough imagination, they might end up being politicians—goodness help the world.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 4:46 pm, 15th March 2006

I thank Ken Macintosh for bringing the debate to the Parliament. The importance of play has always been central in educational thinking, particularly in the early years and in primary. Sadly, it is all too easy for opportunities for play to be designed out of school buildings, school grounds and the local community. In the light of recent developments, the debate is timely, as it gives us an opportunity to highlight the fundamental necessity of incorporating opportunities to play in the curriculum, the design of schools and the way in which we plan space in communities.

The research to which Adam Ingram referred suggests that we do not provide fully for the basic needs of most young people in Scotland. Only recently have Scotland's councils started to audit their green spaces; so far, only just over half have started their audits and few have completed them. It is clear that far too many public-private partnership projects result in a diminution of important informal community green spaces in which children can simply run around between home and school. We need to turn round the post-industrial legacy of wasted spaces that blight too many of our communities. There should be no such thing as a brownfield site: all land should be used permanently in the service of the community in one way or another.

We must ensure that quality green, informal and wild spaces are key features of all new developments, not just residential and business developments. The Executive must give a strong message that we want not only quantity but quality, functionality, accessibility and spaces that meet the needs of the whole community, with, of course, a particular emphasis on children's play. Local councils should pay close attention to the report from Greenspace Scotland and the Project for Public Spaces entitled "Reconnecting People and Place", which was produced slightly more than a year ago, particularly the conclusion that good management is essential to the success of a play space and green space policy.

Eleanor Scott referred eloquently to what children can miss out on and argued that we should develop a children's play policy. There is no better way of doing that than what happened two years ago in Dumbiedykes, just round the corner from the Parliament, when children from the area produced an eco-city report with the help of, among others, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Gaia Planning. They wanted managed play areas that are overlooked; more places for teenagers; better lighting; and the conversion of brownfield sites. Those are not unrealistic demands.

There is no lack of expertise in making quality play space for young people. In December, at a conference in Edinburgh entitled "Making Space: Architecture and Design for Young Children", which was chaired by Kirsty Wark, we heard of the enormous wealth of expertise throughout Europe in designing for play, on which we can draw. The report from Rebecca Hodgson and Graham Leicester entitled "Designing schools for the future: a practical guide" provides in a condensed form an excellent guide for school design that recognises the importance, to which several members have referred, of having a mix of work and play in schools.

In 2000—which is a while ago, admittedly—Capability Scotland conducted research that found that disabled children in Scotland have fewer than half the opportunities that non-disabled pupils have for structured and unstructured play. That is an important point. If—as I think and hope we will learn—the Executive is going to set up a group to consider this problem, I urge it to make that matter a central part of its considerations. A play policy must strive to address such an imbalance.

Members have talked about what play does. It leads to cultural, artistic, physical, mental, emotional, social, creative and intellectual development; it develops resilience, self-confidence, motor skills and an ability to address risks; it helps people to cope with trauma; and it develops entrepreneurial skills and—perhaps above all—spontaneity. It leads to an ability to develop ideas, to explore and to solve problems and it leads to courage and imagination. If play space is not designed into our schools and communities, we will deprive our children of an essential part of their development.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 4:51 pm, 15th March 2006

Like other members, I congratulate Ken Macintosh on securing such an important debate, in which there have been good speeches.

There is no doubt that play is a key topic and is central to our approach to nurturing and developing young and not-so-young children. All of us recall with joy a range of play activities in our own childhoods or in the childhoods of our children. Indeed, after the recent heavy snow fall, I was struck by a somewhat strong and nostalgic desire to go sledging; unfortunately, several generations of sledges had bitten the dust in the garage and I had to put the desire to one side for the moment. I do not altogether agree with what Christine Grahame said about the pleasures of falling down in playgrounds because I bear a scar on my knee to this day as a result of having had such a fall.

Play is an integral part of childhood and it plays a crucial role in children's emotional and physical development, as many members have said. It has an inherent value in bringing enjoyment to children, but it also allows them to use their imagination, to make choices and to build the skills that are necessary to form relationships and grow friendships. Those are important factors in promoting good mental health and positive outcomes later in life.

Eleanor Scott rightly mentioned the need for space to grow and the opportunity for a sense of adventure, which is linked to play. We know that there are some children who do not get the chance to play—the "battery children" to whom Ken Macintosh referred—whose parents may not have experienced proper play activities and whose development may be held back by the lack of suitable play opportunities and experiences.

I want to say something about the Scottish Executive's actions to support play. In the earliest years, through funding a development worker to promote the play@home scheme—which quite a number of local authorities have taken up—we give the practical assistance that is needed to help parents to ensure that play forms a part of children's development from the day on which they are born until they are five years old. The Executive has also published guidance that stresses the central role that play opportunities should have in young children's experience of early education and child care.

The strength of that approach is widely recognised. The curriculum review will introduce a less formal approach to the initial primary stage—Ken Macintosh touched on that. That was a partnership agreement commitment based on a recognition of the importance of play and more informal education. Many opportunities exist during the curriculum review process to consider that issue.

The national care standards for early education and child care up to the age of 16 require that activities that are provided by staff allow children and young people to enjoy both organised and free play, both of which are important, as members have said. Those standards are inspected annually by the care commission.

I accept the caveat that has been given about physical education, but play is linked to physical activity. A reminder of that is provided to us when we watch children playing together in the playground of the Royal Mile primary school beside the Parliament.

With the development of active schools co-ordinators, the active schools programme has done a good deal to deliver an extensive programme of recreational activities, including active play, in Scotland's schools. The expansion of out-of-school care provision in recent years has also allowed increased opportunities for safe and rewarding play and activities for school-age children.

As the motion points out, play can also benefit mental health. Indeed, play therapists use a variety of play and creative arts techniques to improve chronic, mild and moderate psychological and emotional conditions that cause behavioural problems. Again, the holistic approach is important. On visits to schools and units that specialise in physically handicapped and emotionally disturbed children, I have noticed how linking physical sensations of touch, sound and vision to positive play experiences is central to the approaches that are taken.

Ken Macintosh and other members have rightly highlighted a number of barriers to children accessing play opportunities and space to play in. Although local provision is a matter for the elected local authority in an area—in that respect, Mr Macintosh mentioned the project in Toryglen—in the spring the Executive will issue for consultation draft Scottish planning policy 11, which will include national minimum standards within certain types of new development.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

The minister referred to local authority provision. I gather that, when I was not in the chamber, Lord James Douglas-Hamilton referred to cuts in Stirling Council's budget. I want to put on record the fact that those cuts will not harm the high standard of play facilities that the council provides.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am grateful for that intervention, which provides clarification to balance the debate on that more local issue.

We should bear in mind certain road safety issues and concerns about funding. Donald Gorrie mentioned the advantages of the approach taken by the Nancy Ovens Trust, which is important in involving young people. I should also point out that the Big Lottery Fund has named play as one of its priorities in Scotland for 2006 to 2009, which means that projects that support and promote play will have access to significant funding that is likely to be around £35 million. I hope that communities across Scotland will take up that opportunity to develop new and improved play facilities. As for safety, members have already touched on the various issues.

On calls for a play strategy, I am aware of the Welsh play strategy and of the English report on the review of children's play. Although both documents highlight various useful points, most of the suggestions parallel approaches that have already been introduced in Scotland.

The debate has been balanced in its recognition of the limitations of merely producing another strategy on top of other strategies. Strategies on play or indeed on other activities are only of use if they act as a driver of public policy and administrative action that make a difference. I am keeping an open mind on whether a play strategy would add value to the existing initiatives in Scotland. Ministers will want to reflect both on members' useful speeches in the debate and on views about the petition on the matter that has been considered by the Public Petitions Committee and forwarded to ministers for comment. I am sure that today's debate has taken forward thinking on the matter.

Members should bear in mind that a policy statement on play might be more influential with stakeholders beyond the play community if it is located within the wider context of child development, rather than produced as a stand-alone strategy. After all, the issue straddles many policy areas and organisations. The Executive will continue to engage with Play Scotland and others as we consider the options for taking matters forward and supporting such an important area. I hope to report back to Parliament on this in the fairly near future.

I thank all members for their comments on what I think has been an exemplary subject for a members' business debate.