Issue 182 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review



A regular column
contributed by our readers

Child's play

All work and no play...
All work and no play...

I feel it necessary for us all to be knowledgeable as to why play provision is vital for children if we are to be intellectually able to build the struggle against the imminent cuts. For many councils cutting play workers is becoming an easy cost cutting solution, as we have seen recently in the London Borough of Islington.

These notes should provide all comrades with the ammunition needed to build support amongst the working class in defence of play. I hope the information will be used during debates when we hit the streets to obtain signatures or publicise demos. We need to explain the value of play, and the need for adequate resources. If this helps to do so--and feedback is appreciated--then we will have increased our effectiveness.

Mainstream British society views play as being separate from the main business of learning. This is wrong. Yes, children desire fun when they play, but unconsciously they are learning. This can be seen from a very young age, when children first begin to learn how to talk, walk and coordinate movement. Western society has been consistent in underestimating the importance of play. As Marxists we know the only human beings who merit privilege are children. Play is learning!

Adults, in the form of play workers, are needed to provide resources to facilitate play. Play workers are aware of the need not to interfere or dictate a child's play activities. This is something parents and schools often fail to appreciate or maintain in practice. Play workers are needed if we are to have successful playgrounds!

Play activity may take various material forms. Play may be psychological or imaginative. It may involve the use of narration or thinking aloud--this builds vocabulary and helps the child reason with its own experiences.

From the pre-school age up to adolescence play develops a child's social skills in several ways: encouraging companionship ie, solidarity; role playing; boundary making; working toward common objectives through agreed rules; fighting for common aims; increases discussion, debate and moral conceptions of right and wrong.

At the later stages of a child's development through play, it is quickly realised that in the adult/child relationship (parents or teachers) there exists an inequality of power. In the play environment children are encouraged by fellow users and workers to share a common, equal distribution of power. Also, rule making aids the development of literacy and numeracy.

Like everything it influences, capitalism in Western society has largely subordinated play to the lower leagues of a child's developmental agenda. Of course this is not the child's choice, but the choice of those in authority. Now, play takes place in artificial arenas such as playgrounds, playrooms and playdens. Adventure playgrounds are an attempt to provide the child with a more natural play environment, with opportunities for creativity, cooperation, teamwork and risk taking.

Capitalist society has injected the competition ethic and ideology of individualism into play. Our children will play competitive games that produce winners and losers, while other cultures, such as those of the slaves in the American South or the plains Indians of North America, encouraged activities that developed within the child an understanding of the need for cooperation and collectivism.

For the past 15 years the provision and the quality of play facilities in Islington have been outstanding. The suggested cuts now being put through by the council will undermine this tradition.

The quality of play facilities for children is a major concern for Islington parents, especially since a recent survey indicates that 20 percent of all five to ten year olds are home alone after school or during holidays, as current economic conditions force both parents to work. The Tories and bosses have no commitment to increase the current meagre levels of childcare provision.

This topic is one which branches could really capitalise on.
M Chay

Table talk

Labour has done a U turn on education policy by supporting school league tables. They claim they will be 'fairer' because they will be based on measuring the difference that a school makes in pupils' exam results, instead of reporting raw exam results like the Tories do.

There are a number of points to be made about this. First, any league tables create winners and losers--that is what they are for. They are designed to encourage competition, and will lead schools to concentrate only on the criteria they are being measured by.

Second, researchers agree that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Value added tables will encourage oversubscribed schools to select pupils according to how well they did in previous tests. Pupils who do well in tests at 11 will be creamed off by the popular secondary schools. Tables will lead to a two tier education system of premier league and non-league schools. For this reason it is vital that the NUT continues to boycott SATs.

There is also a clear link between the use of performance indicators and appraisal and (ultimately) performance related pay. It is usually left to schools to decide who gets to know the findings of the research, and how that information is used. In future it is bound to be linked to pay by 'performance'.

Labour's retreat is wrong even in narrow electoral terms. Research shows that league tables are not popular with parents (which is why the SATs boycott received public support). There is a real political issue in education--Tory cuts in public spending. In Newcastle £11 million is being cut from the education budget over the next three years. This will lead to the closure of 12 to 15 schools and the loss of 200 teachers' jobs. If Labour fought the government over cuts like this it would get overwhelming support from workers. Unfortunately, in Newcastle and elsewhere it is a Labour council wielding the axe. Labour will not win votes by aping the Tories' unpopular education politics and implementing Tory cuts.
Dave Skidmore

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