A couple of days ago I started to see this image on Twitter, usually with a disparaging comment along the lines of ‘Why are the SNP giving this out when they can’t even [insert some actual or perceived failing of the Scottish education system]?’
A little investigation led me to discover that the picture was the front cover of a 35-page book published by the Scottish government suggesting all sorts of ways children can play. The graphics and text suggest it is aimed directly at children but the last page provides an explanatory note for parents and carers. You can find it online here.
The book says
The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up
and it is, perhaps inevitably, part of a national Play Strategy (published in 2013) which includes a Play Strategy Action Plan.
So far so typical, and I mean of government generally, not the SNP in particular – you want to achieve something, you start with a high-level strategy, build up an action plan, and then begin implementing individual actions. Play this way is one of the actions in this case.
The book was launched in November 2015 with the statement that it ‘will be distributed to all 8 year olds, in the new year.’ One parent posted a copy of the standard covering letter they eventually received with the book this term, somewhat into the new year (August):
You’ll also see it says the book is being ‘gifted’ to all children in P3, P4 and P5 i.e. aged roughly between 6 and 10.
This all raises numerous questions in my mind.
- What sort of involvement in principle should government have in children’s play and what sort of guidance, if any, do most parents, carers and children need on it?
- Is the blanket approach to improvement that all parents and all children need guidance (akin in that respect at least to the Named Person scheme) the most effective, or would action be better targeted at families where there is a problem with enough appropriate play for children?
- Does it make sense, given all the other pressures on government generally and education specifically, to want Scotland to be the ‘best’ place in the world to grow up?
- What does ‘best’ mean and how would its achievement be measured?
- Why has the whole scheme taken so long to implement, with the strategy approved three years ago, the book published at the tail end of last year and, in some cases only being distributed now?
- What sort of planning leads to a book on play being issued in some schools immediately after the longest holiday period children have in the year?
- Why has the original intention for every eight year old to receive a copy of the book been extended to 6-10 year olds and is one text appropriate for all these ages?
- What are the implications of that wide distribution for the scheme in future years and is it funded beyond this year?
- What has the whole exercise of ‘gifting’ (a euphemism for taxpayers’ money) cost?
These issues however were not the first that occurred to me when I saw the book.
Let me say that I personally find the artwork in the book very attractive and I pay tribute to the artist concerned. I do have doubts based on my experience as a parent about the suitability of some of the language and suggested activities for some of the age groups the book has been distributed to.
But as so often with this SNP government’s work, it is the detail that makes me question part of the motivation behind the book.
Why, for example, does the friendly robot on the front cover need a saltire on his/her chest? I hear nationalists laughing at my sensitivity to such a tiny detail but I’d invite them to consider their own reaction if it had sported a union flag.
Friendly robot reappears later on with instructions (of a sort) on how to assemble it and the cheery message ‘we are proud to say made in Scotland.’ Why proud to say? This is supposed to be about children learning and having fun through play, not training mini-nationalists.
Lastly, and amusingly, on page 12 a game is explained as if no child has ever heard of it
HEY! Hopscotch. Jings! No it’s peevers.
I love this. With all the government’s emphasis on/propaganda about the Scots language this is the only Scots of any sort to appear in what is a surprisingly wordy publication. I have no problem with that: I prefer the use of standard English in education. But I imagine a minister or special advisor reviewing the text at the last minute and objecting that it’s all in ‘English’ English. I hear the civil servant even now, ‘Of course, minister. Quite right. We’ll have the contractor make amendments in Scots immediately’ and later, ‘For God’s sake, can you just shove in something about peevers? If you can fit in a “Jings” so much the better.’
Preparing this article, I discovered from his parent that one 9-year old boy had received his copy of the book towards the end of last term (June). His verdict? ‘Idiotic.’ I’d be interested to know the reaction to Play this way of other parents with 6-10 year olds.
Footnote – some reactions reported on Twitter after this article was published:
- My son brought this home and put it straight in the recycling bin. Says it all really
- Encouraging play is a good thing but this seems like a standard/costly “one size fits all/play our way” approach
- Mine got this too. Complete load of b*****ks
- My 8yr old received in June. Do you want to read this? No. It’s sunny, can we play badminton? Says it all really