Sunday, 26 April 2015

Thank You, Sophia, Fundraising for Sciennes' Playground!

Great enterprise and initiative from P4 pupil Sophia, and a fabulous amount of reading! Thank you, Sophia!

This weekend Sophia Walker (P4A) participated in a 24 hour Readathon to raise money for the Sciennes Playground Redevelopment. During that time she read 382 pages. We have pledged 10p for every page read, and have donated 38.20 to FSS on her behalf. We've also set up a MyDonate page for her. 

Tanya (Sophia's mum)

Friday, 24 April 2015

Successful Bid for SportScotland Funding for Playground Improvements

The Minister for Sport, Jamie Hepburn, today announced that Sciennes Primary has been successful in its bid for match funding towards our ambitious Playground Improvements, receiving the full amount of £56 000. Thrilling news!

Sporting projects from across the country are set to receive a funding boost thanks to the success of last year's Commonwealth Games.

A total of 34 projects across Scotland will share over £1.5m from the Legacy 2014 Active Places Fund.

The awards are the fifth and final allocation of the £10m project, which aided a total of 188 projects across every local authority in the country.

Jamie Hepburn, minister of sport, announced the projects to benefit from the final tranche of money at the Cumbernauld Centurions BMX Club, one of the first facilities to receive funds.

"These 34 new awards are part of almost 200 projects to receive investment from the Legacy 2014 Active Places Fund which is playing an important role in improving and creating excellent facilities all over the country.

"This £10 million investment has helped deliver an impressive breadth of community, school, outdoors, and sports-based projects and is an integral component of the significant and positive legacy."

Sciennes Community Active Play Experience

An innovative consultation process in 2013-2014 by the Parent Council Communications Group, driven by Parent Council Chair Claire Wheeler, led to a sector leading example of best practice in action planning. Surveying our families identified how our playground could be improved and focused minds on how to make improvements a reality. Fellow members of the Parent Council subsequently formed a Playground Improvement Group, working alongside Headteacher Mrs Alison Noble and Business Manager Ms Angela Christie to shape the vision and enlist the dedicated support of the Parent Council Fundraising and Events Group (FEG), led by Chair Aileen Nimmo.

Plans formulated by the group were indeed ambitious - £56 000 is the target for school based fundraising - and with today's announcement of our successful application to SportScotland to match fund that sum, we hope that our entire community will continue to see and seize this as a remarkable, long dreamt of opportunity. We are indebted to parent Tanya Boughtflower particularly for her assistance in preparing the successful bid. An incredible £38 000 has already been raised by the school and we hope our forthcoming Swimathon will edge us further forward towards our target amount.

Another of our Playground Improvement Group drivers, parent Stuart Sheehan, has rightly acknowledged the wealth of talent and resourcefulness within our community and convincingly appealed to all to grasp this landmark project as an ideal opportunity to create a legacy for all Sciennes' pupils - current and future. Sports Minister Jamie Hepburn's announcement today fortifies Sciennes' motto that if we Believe we can indeed Achieve.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Parent Feedback to Playground Survey Helps Inform Developments

Thank you to all the parents and staff who came along to Tuesday’s Parent Council meeting – it was a very productive and participative meeting. The Playground Group reported back on how the feedback from parents has informed the development of the playground plans. Click here to see the full report from the Playground Group and Senior Leadership Team.  Parents and staff were asked to indicate how well each of the areas of concern had been attended to – this was done using stickers on ‘feedback lines’ which provided a clear visual picture of views. This enabled a discussion on ‘ways forward’ and there was an agreement by the Parent Council to support playground improvements based on the Playground Group’s responses to the areas of concern. There was an acknowledgment that this has been a challenging process with tight timescales and a broad range of views. The incredible fundraising efforts of the wider parent community were recognised – around £35,000 so far in this school year. The school is still waiting to hear about the SportScotland funding application.
A discussion took place about the need to highlight this year’s non-playground spends – the Parent Council and Friends of Sciennes School Trust has additionally funded Benmore and Lagganlia subsidies, club subsidies, swimming, cycling, the pupil water cooler, eco activities and a music event. Further effort will be made to share this information with the wider parent community.
The next Parent Council Meeting is taking place on Thursday 23rd April, 7-9pm – all parents are very welcome.

Claire Wheeler, Chair of Sciennes Parent Council

Response to Parent Input on Playground Development

Response to Parent Input on Playground Development
The school, Senior Leadership Team and the Playground Improvement Group would like to thank all parents and carers who have provided feedback, voiced concerns and contributed to the on-going consultations about the playground redevelopment. The initial feedback, gathered from the Playground Consultation Survey put together by the Parent Council in December, was overwhelmingly positive and contained valuable and thoughtful comments.

Concurrent with the emails sent out by Sciennes’ Senior Leadership Team during the week of 9 March, the school received further emails and comments which have shown overall support for the playground redevelopment, but have also demonstrated that there are still areas of concern that need to be addressed. Through our consultation with various other Edinburgh schools (Bruntsfield, Busckstone, Castleview, Cramond, James Gillespie, Lorne, Sighthill and Trinity) and play specialists (Grounds For Learning, SportScotland, City of Edinburgh Play Development, Play Scotland) we have sought answers to these queries.

The school, Senior Leadership Team and Playground Improvement Group have worked together in putting together this report. We have started with some background information that shows the path we’ve travelled thus far. This includes the philosophical underpinnings that inform the school’s vision of the playground development and how that corresponds with the Curriculum For Excellence and our long term vision.

In 2013 a parent survey indicated that the playground – safety and lack of interesting facilities - was the top concern of parents at Sciennes. Around the same time, Head Teacher Alison Noble was becoming interested in the opportunities for outdoor learning and active play as presented by Ground For Learning. Soon after this the Playground Improvement Group, a sub-group of Parent Council, was formed. It is open to all parents/ carers at Sciennes School and school staff. Presently it is chaired by Head Teacher Mrs. Noble and is comprised of local City of Edinburgh Councillors and concerned parents and carers.

Our aspiration is to improve the quality of the playground environment as a whole and to raise the expectations, opportunities and levels of stimulation available to our children across all ages and groups through a programme of active play.

Together, the Senior Leadership Team and the Playground Improvement Group have identified Active Play as the key principle to guide all future works. Active Play gives children the right to play and be active in a non-prescribed way. That is, it allows children to explore nature and their environment, engage in creative expression and develop an awareness of risk through play that develops balance, spatial negotiation and complex decision-making. The best way of achieving this is to provide a play landscape that can act as blank canvas upon which children can create their own world of opportunity.

Natural materials and landforms are the simplest way of achieving a world of possibility as they are inherently non-prescriptive. A varied topography stimulates varied play. Hills, mounds, hollows and tunnels naturally lead to running, rolling, jumping and leaping. Configured properly, these same elements will also break up a large, open space into smaller zones that encourage socialising, imaginative play and learning environments. Traditional school playgrounds tend to offer a mono-culture when children need variety. The playground the school wants for its pupils will provide areas of collaboration and competition, activity and solitude, socialising and independent play.

By creating a space that has multiple, non-prescribed uses, the playground can become what the pupils want it to be, connect with the Curriculum for Excellence and leave an enduring legacy that can evolve over time.

Curriculum For Excellence
The Curriculum For Excellence is set up with four key goals in mind. Its purpose is to help children become Successful Learners, Confident Individuals, Responsible Citizens and Effective Contributors. 

Crucially, the attributes and capabilities of the Confident Individual as ascribed in the Curriculum For Excellence provided us with a clear rationale for playground development.  Key attributes to be developed include self-respect and a sense of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Our proposed playground plans seek to encourage children to ‘relate to others and manage themselves’, to ‘pursue a healthy and active lifestyle’, to be ‘self-aware’, to ‘assess risk and make informed decisions’ and finally, ‘achieve success in different areas of activity’.

Essentially, this playground development seeks to develop life skills which will prepare our children for the increasingly challenging changeable and global environment of the 21st Century.

Long Term Vision
The redevelopment of the playground at Sciennes is an ambitious project and cannot happen overnight. For simplicity and manageability the Playground Improvement Group has broken it down into three phases which were presented and agreed at the 28 August, 2014 meeting of the Parent Council:

Phase 1: Low cost high impact interventions - 2014/15 Academic Year and ongoing
In June 2014, the results of a case study done on low-cost, high impact playground interventions by students from the University of Edinburgh were given to the Playground Improvement Group. Based on their feedback, the school and Playground Improvement Group agreed that there were opportunities to move forward in this way in advance of a big build.

To date we have installed six new living play spaces with recycled and donated items. These include several smaller zones ideal for imaginative play and a bamboo grove. The impact these small interventions had on play was immediate and transformative. 
We have also completed the first phase of introducing Loose Parts Play to teachers, pupil support assistants, playground supervisors and pupils with visits from Steve Moizer (Grounds for Learning) and Louise Caldwell (Play Development Officer, CEC).  They have encouraged us that introducing loose parts now is great preparation for the pupils for Phase 2. Sciennes’ Loose Parts Play will be put in place with a gradual roll out from April 2015.

Phase 2: Playground Redevelopment
Utilizing the final round of SportScotland Legacy 2014 Active Places match-funding to implement a comprehensive reconfiguration and refurbishment of the existing south playground and the existing landscaped strip south of Sciennes Road (between Tantallon Place and Sylvan Place). The end result will be inviting, safe, social and fun and offer a sense of space and freedom. It will encourage active play and have managed risks to challenge the users in a manner appropriate to its setting. The playground will seek to develop children's strength, endurance, skill and spatial awareness through a range of unfamiliar textures, complex spaces and varying heights. We hope to implement the Phase 2 playground redevelopment works during the school summer holiday in July and August 2015.

We would very much like to stick to the proposed timetable for 3 reasons:   
1.    If we are granted SportScotland Legacy 2014 match-funding, our understanding is that the project should be completed by March 2016. The summer holiday this year, by good fortune, is seven weeks' long and is the only time we can proceed with construction without negatively affecting the pupils. The final date to apply for SportScotland match-funding was February 1, 2015. This presented significant time pressures, but the Senior Leadership Team and the Playground Improvement Group, with the support of Parent Council and Friends of Sciennes School, felt that the opportunity for match-funding was too good to pass up.

2.    There is no guarantee Phase 3 – the expansion of the playground over Sciennes Road - will take place anytime soon. While the playground expansion remains a priority and something we are continually working on, we also want to do something to benefit children at Sciennes now, already two years in to the playground redesign project. The Phase 2 plans have been developed with a successful bid to close down Sciennes Road in mind, and will be integrated into the proposed larger playground.

3.    While we expect the introduction of loose parts to be met with great success, we know that loose parts function best when there are loose materials, such as sand and gravel, within the landscape, as opposed to environments dominated by tarmac. Sand, gravel, grass and hills all contribute to the overall success of loose parts play. The more options we can give pupils in loose parts and loose materials will contribute to the on-going success and sustainability of the program.
Phase 3: Extending Playground over Sciennes Road (notionally 2017)
Acquiring more space is crucial to making Sciennes’ playground more effective and manageable. This remains the Playground Improvement Group’s priority and is something we are continually working on, but is not without obstacles.
•    The Royal Hospital for Sick Children does not relocate until 2017 and nothing can be done until after that date. Moreover, as the developer of the site is still unknown, we cannot predict how they will feel about our proposal.
•    There is a formal process that must be followed to close a road. This includes a Stopping Up Order in line with the Road Scotland Act of 1984 and public consultation for which we can expect at least some opposition.
•    Beyond this, feasibility studies and road plans that include sufficient turning circles etc would have to be undertaken.

Earlier this year Sciennes was selected to participate in the Safer Streets Pilot project (to be launched in September 2015). This will shut down Sciennes Road to traffic during morning drop off and afternoon pick up times. We see this as a very positive early step in achieving our goal.

Addressing Parents’ Concerns
Surfaces and Materials
A great deal of thought and consultation has gone into the surfaces and materials used in the new playground development. Safety, variety, durability, and learning through play were our primary concerns in choosing materials. To this end, we have chosen a wide range of materials that have a long life span, are durable and natural, and will contribute to overall safety by reducing running speeds and providing a resilient landing surface. Sand, gravel, grass, and hills encourage running, jumping, rolling, and creative play and exploration.
In the Parent Survey there were a number of concerns expressed about the use of sand in the playground. For simplicity, these concerns can broadly be categorized as pertaining to cleanliness, hygiene, safety and drainage.
A number of parents expressed concerns over the ‘mess’ associated with sand. We acknowledge that sand can be messy, track in and dirty school uniforms. We also see it as a key component of creative play. The school is prepared and staffed to deal with the added work sand will contribute to the upkeep of the school and its grounds. We will also be providing students with brushes to sweep themselves off with before returning to the school. Moreover, sand comprises less than 2% of the overall area of the playground and as such is seen as one minor, though effective, component of the playground design.
Concerns have been raised about animal waste in the sand and other issues associated with cleanliness. We will address the issue of animal waste as it arises. The play park at the Meadows has limited issues in this regard. We have also been in close consultation with Grounds For Learning, City of Edinburgh and other Edinburgh schools (Buckstone, Sighthill) for strategies of ensuring that the sand is checked for any waste on a daily basis, regularly cleaned and maintained. There are also anti-bacterial rinses available that can be sprayed on the sand weekly. But by far the most effective treatment for sand is UV light and water (rain).
A number of parents worried about sand in eyes, either by accident or by throwing sand. The expectations for the children will be clearly laid out and reviewed in the classroom. Sand throwing will not be tolerated and will result in not being allowed to play in the sand.
Sand can accidentally get into eyes. This will be dealt with appropriately by the playground staff.
We are aware of the benefits and obstacles sand presents to drainage. At Sciennes we are lucky to have a playground that already drains nicely in heavy rains. The addition of sand and gravel should have no negative effect on this. Both materials are very porous and there should be no additional sitting water. We have flagged this as a concern with the landscape architects, city consultants and it will be noted in the next stage of designs.

We have listened to the views of parents, consultants and educators and have decided that, on balance, the overall benefits of sand as an integral part of the playground design outweigh the possible risks and drawbacks. We have consulted with other Edinburgh schools about the addition of sand to their playgrounds and overwhelmingly they have stated that sand was the best new intervention to playgrounds for their money. We are also following their advice in establishing best practices.
For more information on the importance of sand in play, maintenance and cleanliness please refer to This Place is Like a Building Site, p 32-35.

Variety of Surface and Hills
The most powerful design concept informing the school’s vision of the playground is possibility. Whereas large, open, flat spaces offer the least range of possibility, varied topography and materials are among the easiest ways of bringing possibility to a playground. Mounds, tunnels, slopes, terraces and hollows will naturally inspire active play beyond running. These formations also break up large open spaces into more small/medium spaces for socializing and more imaginative play.

A varied topography also addresses the large number of injuries caused by speed, collision and impact that are currently a regular occurrence on Sciennes’ playground. A large, flat, open surface allows children to move far too quickly resulting in collisions and falls onto tarmac, a hard and unforgiving surface.  Surfaces like sand and gravel will naturally slow down running speeds and absorb the impact from collisions. Undulating surfaces, a variety of levels and large, clearly visible obstacles will also contribute to slower running speeds, while providing a more dynamic play experience.

Interaction with various surfaces and the need for balance and assessment of relative risk are all important to child development. Children will learn to judge distances, make safe decision and see alternatives. Moreover, the variety of landscapes in the new playground will help children train their eyes at different distances, a skill that we are losing in an age of constant screen time.

One of the key things we would like to introduce to the playground is contact with nature. A recent study has shown that fewer than 10% of children in the UK regularly play in natural spaces, compared to 40% of adults when they were young. Given that most children get the bulk of their outdoor playtime at school, Sciennes believes that we need to do more than provide a dull and uninspiring tarmac playground for our pupils.
Grass is a simple and cost effective way of bringing nature into the playground.  We understand that grass in playground setting will not flourish, but we know that contact with real earth also has pedagogical benefits that carry over to the classroom, such as better concentration skills and mitigated ADHD symptoms.

We have listened to parent concerns about mud, and have learned from other schools’ experiences. For examples, we know from Buckstone’s experience that grass does not grow on top of tunnels or steep grades. For this reason we are proposing a combination of artificial grass or astroturf, rubber matting under the grass to reduce mud and the use of different types of grasses. We are still in consultation on this issue with experts from various fields. Our intention is not to turn the playground into a quagmire, but to make the most of natural materials.

Scale of Design and Space
Some parents have voiced concern over the loss of open, flat space for children to run in. The school and Playground Improvement Group want to emphasize that there will be no loss of space and the children will still have lots of space to run in. The physical activity that comes from running is a key component of active play. However, the design of the playground will make running more dynamic and challenging. As stated above, the current situation results in numerous injuries. Our design will force the children to slow down, moderate their speed, and give variety and challenges. It is designed to make running more exciting and provide more options. Currently when playing ‘sheddy’ many pupils run up and over the picnic tables. Our design will provide obstacles such as this, but in a safe and controlled manner.

The playground design will also naturally provide more options to the children, including areas of calm and quiet play. Currently the Quiet Corner and alcoves along the front of the school are the only areas where children can escape the fast paced action of the playground. As a result, a significant number of children remove themselves to the toilets to escape the commotion.

Some parents are concerned about how the size of the intervention will impact other activities at Sciennes. We have listened to the input of staff and parents and have intentionally retained a sports zone that can be used for multiple sports. We have also consulted with the Bike Club and have been told that cycle training will not be negatively impacted.

The long term goal of the school and the Playground Group is to close Sciennes Road to traffic. This will be a lengthy and intensive project. In the meantime, the current plans have been developed with the expansion in mind. The tunnel is situated in such a way as to lead to a (proposed) third gate or to an open area. Various scenarios are being considered, keeping in mind various restriction and limitations that may be placed upon the design based on access provisions, listed building status, etc.

Cost and Value for Money
There is no denying that £93,000 sounds like a lot of money for a playground; however the Senior Leadership Team and and Playground Improvement Group have emphasised that this is an investment that goes far beyond play. This is an investment in the pupils’ health and well-being, and learning outcomes, as well as an investment in the staff’s ability to carry out the provisions set out in the Curriculum For Excellence.

Before enlisting a Landscape Architect, the Senior Leadership Team and Playground Improvement Group took the time to look around at what other Edinburgh schools were doing with their playgrounds, at the different approaches being taken, and consulted with the relevant departments at the City of Edinburgh. Based on what we learned it was agreed that a large intervention was needed instead of a more piecemeal approach over several years.

Similarly, we have followed the approach of other schools in getting just one set of preliminary designs.  Since we were working on a tight schedule for the SportScotland Legacy application deadline of 1 February, 2015, it was the most time-efficient and cost-efficient means of achieving our goal. Moreover, the Playground Improvement Group did not feel the expense of commissioning more than one set of designs was financially responsible or that it would have yielded a better end result. The designs provided by Harrison Stevens met the needs and expectations of the school, had good support from the school community, and it was concluded that our energies and resources would be most effectively invested by optimising one design.

In September 2014 Harrison Stevens was chosen to proceed with the first stage of designs for several reasons: their firm has a productive relationship with Grounds For Learning and City of Edinburgh Council, they had already been a part of several successful SportScotland Legacy bids and knew what would constitute a good application, and a preliminary meeting with Harrison Stevens demonstrated that they understood the school’s desire to change the culture of play at Sciennes. Simply put, Harrison Stevens appeared to be the obvious choice.

In putting together our costings we have built in significant contingencies and safety margins. We are aware that costs can increase over time and have built in a safety net. We are aiming high, but we will not spend money unnecessarily. We want to make the best use of the money we have. That means if we fall short of our target, adjustments to the plans can be made.

We are also mindful of the money that has been put into the playground in the past. For that reason we are reusing and recycling as much material as possible. The amphitheatre is incorporated into the designs and the traversing wall will be used in some way. Moreover, everything has been designed with longevity in mind. We are intentionally using materials with long life spans and manufacturers warrantees. In some cases this increases the initial cost, but we believe there is value in the extra money spent.

Part of the reason the Playground Improvement Group wants to progress with the development this year is because we want to get the best value for our money possible. Fifty per cent match funding from SportScotland (if acquired) is a rare opportunity that is not likely to come again anytime soon.  For every pound we put in, we receive an additional pound. However, to take advantage of this funding we have to act quickly and costs must be in by March 2016.

Supervision and Safety
In the kind of playground the Senior Leadership Team and the Playground Improvement Group envision there is a distinct shift in supervision; it is not about policing and regulating play, but focuses on creating an environment where children feel empowered to take control and direct play. This does not mean that we are doing away with rules and enforcement. In class, pupils will take an active role in establishing a playground charter relating to safety and mutual respect. The charter will be based on the notion that every child has the right to play and every child has the right to be safe. Playground supervisiors will be on the playground ensuring that these basic rights are protected for every child.

We also need to keep in mind that our playground supervisors are very experienced and will be walking around, listening and paying attention to what is going on around them. They are always available and can be easily called upon for help. They are also being given additional training by Grounds for Learning and with the City of Edinburgh’s Play Development department. This is being done so that they can interact and monitor students most effectively in the new playground. A member of the Senior Leadership Team is always on duty in the playground each day; a practice established over several years which will continue.

In the summer term loose play will be introduced gradually. Items and materials will be collected and temporary storage will be brought in and erected. The Pupil Council (who have helped prepare a Playground Charter) will present the finished result at Assembly. Before rolling out loose parts at lunch times, each year group will have the opportunity to try out all the materials during a timetabled session with their class teachers and PSAs. Thereafter equipment and materials will be available during two lunch sessions with the intention of rolling out to all lunch sessions. 

Child safety is a key concern of the school and the Senior Leadership Team and is, in fact, one of the key factors driving the playground redevelopment forward. Safety has always been a key consideration as we’ve moved forward. Currently major injuries, including head injuries, happen far too frequently with subsequent visits to A&E and significant distress. The surfaces and interventions we’ve chosen will limit these kinds of major injuries and give children the freedom to develop confidence and independence. That does not mean the new playground will be injury free. Other schools we have consulted with have noted a change in the types of injuries they are seeing after interventions have been introduced and a reduction in major accidents and head injuries.

Access to Nature Strip
The school is developing an operational plan for access to the nature strip. We have consulted with James Gillespie's Primary for best practices based on their experience of taking pupils over to the Links during break times while their school is under construction.

It is likely that the nature strip will only be available at lunchtimes due to time restraints. Children will be escorted across the street by a playground supervisor who will stay with them for the duration of the break. Initially a rota based on class, year or House may be used to limit numbers, but over time we believe this will become self-regulating. We believe the development will increase the current use made by staff for curriculum learning experiences.

The sheds are listed buildings and as such we are limited with what can be done with them. It is proposed that a small section of the west shed will be used as loose parts storage, based on the advice of Steve Moizer (Grounds for Learning) and Louise Caldwell (Play Development Officer, CEC).

Our consultations with pupils to date have indicated that they would like four-square lines drawn on the tarmac. Beyond this, we will be seeking additional pupil and staff feedback to see what changes they would like to see to the sheds.

Quiet Corner
We feel it is very important to retain the Quiet Corner. A great number of pupils need a quiet place to recharge during break times. Currently, it is often used for more rambunctious play – jumping from bench to bench, climbing the tree and scaling the fence – and we would like to see it revert to an area of calm and quiet.

Steve Mozier, a consultant from Grounds for Learning, has suggested implementing ‘small world’ here. Other suggestions have included adding more foliage and greenery.   Again, we will be consulting the pupils to see what their ideas are.

From the beginning, the school has seen the playground redevelopment as an opportunity to institute a programme of Active Play. The reason for focusing on Active Play rather than Sport is multifold:
1.    Inclusion – Active Play is inclusive in a way that Sport is not. It engages children across ages and skill level. It also allows children to direct their own play and develop their own rules. It falls in line with our Play Policy that states that every child has the right to play. Active Play can include Sport, but is not restricted by it.

2.    Space – Our playground simply isn’t big enough for additional formal playing fields or courts. Moreover, when a formal game is in session, the number of pupils able to use that area is limited.

There are many opportunities for Sport at Sciennes once the pupils reach the upper school. Please refer to

Sciennes Senior Leadership Team and the Playground Improvement Group