Institute of Education


What if… we took play more seriously in the schools system?

03 December 2020, 5:45 pm–6:45 pm

IOE public debates - play

When it comes to our schools system, can all forms of play be equal, or will some always be more equal than others? And are all pupils able to benefit, especially as digital access becomes more important?

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Kate Thomas

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Play is typically defined as ‘activity for enjoyment and recreation’, but in many respects it serves a very serious and purposeful role in our lives. 
It’s vital to our early development, and supports wellbeing throughout the lifespan. Meanwhile, there’s been growing recognition of play’s purposeful potential in some unexpected places, with big business harnessing play to boost employees’ creative thinking.  

In education, though, play has seemed to carry less respect, squeezed out by curriculum reforms and shrinking break times. How can we raise play’s credibility in this sphere without draining it of its distinctive contribution and appeal? 

Play of course takes many forms, from unstructured, independent activity to organised team sports, while digital technology is adding new dimensions to its repertoire – dimensions that have become more important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on children’s ability to socialise with one another in person.  

We’ve brought together experts from a range of fields to throw around some ideas about the place of play in children’s learning. 


  • Shahneila Saeed, Head of Education and Programme Director of Digital Schoolhouse, The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie)
  • Sara Baker, Reader in Developmental Psychology and Education, University of Cambridge
  • Michael Rosen, Professor of Children's Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Tom McBride, Director of Evidence, Early Intervention Foundation
  • Chair: Dominic Wyse, Professor of Early Childhood and Primary Education, UCL Institute of Education

Find out more about the speakers of this debate. Join the conversation on Twitter at #IOEDebates


In association with TES