The OPAL Primary Programme

The new OPAL Booklet will tell you all you need to know about the UK’s only proven programme for supporting school improvement through play.



  • Introduction meeting
  • Observation and Audit meeting
  • 3 Development meetings (including safety/risk management, staff best practice and managing resources)
  • Awards and final plan meeting
  • INSET on play
  • Parents meeting
  • Half-day grounds master planning workshop
  • Over 100 cross referenced resource documents and templates
  • Unlimited email and phone support
  • 30+ years of play development expertise
  • Support over 12-18 months
  • Design advice

Services and Prices

The OPAL Primary Programme   The usual delivery period is 12-18 months. The cost until September 2019 is  £4250 plus travel


Many of the schools OPAL works with are Ofsted ‘outstanding’ and OPAL has been praised in a number of Ofsted school inspection reports. Several HMI inspectors who offer Ofsed preparation advice refer schools to OPAL.

OPAL relevance to the 2019 Ofsted Inspection Framework

2019 Update  The new inspection framework expects schools to take a much broader approach to the development of characteristics in the areas of ‘personal development’ and ‘behaviour and attitudes‘ which OPAL is especially effective at delivering. Even the inspection area of ‘Leadership and Management‘ can benefit from the structured, hierarchical approach taken by the OPAL Programme. This is because Intent (what and why), Implementation (how and when) and Impact (evaluation, reflection, success criteria) have been at the very core of the OPAL Programme ever since its inception back in 2005!

Ofsted looks for behaviour which supports children in becoming resilient, well adjusted and competent citizens who are equipped to cope in the world beyond school. They are interested in how schools support development of the core skills that are best accrued by children through high quality play, including co-operation, context-rich language use, problem solving, negotiation, creativity and mental and physical well-being.

OPAL enables schools to clearly evidence both a base-line and also a monitorable improvement strategy for active learning, well being and physical activity.

One of the first schools to be inspected in 2019 was an OPAL Platinum school, Fairlight Primary in Brighton, where the quality of play and its contribution to the school was noted in the Ofsted report;

“Pupils enjoy coming to school. Older pupils told me how much the school has changed for the better in the last four years and how much they enjoy the extra activities and trips that they undertake. Your work in improving the learning environment, including the chances for all pupils to learn through play, is beginning to pay dividends in the way that pupils engage in learning. Importantly, their attendance has improved dramatically in the last two years and is now broadly in line with the national average for primary schools.” OFSTED 


Children spend 1.4 years of their primary school attendance in playtime. This time is valuable and needs coherent planning.

Changes in culture and society have led to ‘play poverty’ in childhood which has numerous negative impacts.

Better play means happier children. Happier children mean less behaviour problems, a more positive attitude to school, more effective lessons, core skills development, less staff time spent resolving unnecessary problems, less accidents and happier staff…more


OPAL was developed in response to demand from schools for help in resolving issues at playtime, including boredom, high levels of accidents and playground incidents, lack of respect for supervisors and a constant stream of low-level behaviour problems, as well as a desire to improve the quality of children’s play experience in school. Schools expected the resolution to lie in better occupation for the children such as playground games, behaviour management training for the supervisors or more equipment for the children. All of these were tried during the programme’s development, but none had a significant lasting effect.

To Avoid

Our experience has led us to the conclusion that children will play with anything that is different for up to six weeks but from then on the attraction slowly starts to wane. The four points below are the main reasons that schools give as having only short-term or limited play value.

  1. Unchallenging so-called ‘challenging play equipment’, such as many standard trim-trails that schools buy without firstly gaining an understanding of whether they actually meet their children’s needs! These ‘trail’ structures can often be extremely low in play value, low in financial cost-benefit, low in ‘challenge’ and essentially much too simple for most KS1 and KS2 children, which means they are far too quickly mastered. Boredom soon returns, with little to show for the many £thousands invested.
  2. Most playground markings and most surfacing.
  3. One-off workshops for play staff.
  4. Designating a space as a quiet area or friendship bench.

OPAL has extensive knowledge of how to spend your money wisely, to maximise long term play value.

How your school will benefit from the OPAL Primary Programme



OPAL Works to Support Learning
OPAL has been independently proven to be highly effective at helping schools bring about sustainable and beneficial change and is used as an example of best practice by DCSF, Skills Active, KIDS and Play England.
OPAL will help meet the new OFSTED requirements for non-curricular activities which support broad learning.

OPAL Saves Money
An average school will save £2000-£4500 a year! The amount of time spent each day by professional staff having to deal with niggling behavioural problems arising from poor quality playtimes will quickly reduce after the implementation of the OPAL programme. Many of our client Headteachers have said that their problems have completely disappeared.
Schools spend a great deal of money on equipment with very limited, short-term play value.
OPAL will show you how to get maximum play value for minimum spending.

OPAL Gives you Peace of Mind
Using our five tier approach, OPAL will help you understand the latest guidance on the law concerning risks in children’s play, and how the relationship between a non-work activity such as play works with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. We will help you develop appropriate policies so that your staff can let children play in confidence, so that you can be sure that you are doing the right thing, by them and by the law.
OPAL will give you the confidence to use the right risk assessment techniques to properly manage, though not eliminate, the many benefits involved in promoting ‘risky’ children’s play.

OPAL Helps Children and Adults Enjoy School More.
Stress and worry can have a damaging impact on the effectiveness of adults in school. They can stop staff from doing their jobs properly, which prevents children from maximising their learning potential. OPAL helps children have much richer and more satisfying playtimes, taking the strain off adults to create a more co-operative and creative culture within a school.
OPAL will enable a happier environment for learning, playing and working.

OPAL Demonstrates Quality

OPAL Awards show that a school has reached clearly defined stages in providing the conditions for great play and universality addressing children’s well-being and rights. OPAL quality awards are Silver, Gold and Platinum.

OPAL will help your school make lasting improvements to your culture and environment.

OPAL is the only play development programme created by a Local Authority School Improvement Service. It provides quantifiable data for tracking school improvement – useful evidence for governors, parents and OFSTED.