Fair Play: A project exploring the benefits of structured and unstructured play opportunities for equity in education

The Gonski Institute for Education (GIE) is embarking on a new research project in NSW primary schools that explores whether increasing access to play in schools reduces the effects of educational inequity for children. The project, known as Fair Play, aims to understand the benefits of structured and unstructured play opportunities and to understand how learning through play can help to enhance equity of education in Australian schools. There is a wealth of evidence supporting the importance of play to children’s educational outcomes, but there is a pressing need for rigorous research determining whether it is linked to equitable outcomes. Despite the importance of play to children’s wellbeing, children’s access to play as part of learning is ever more constrained and regulated by policy agendas and within families with low socio-economic status. In this new research, GIE has partnered with LEGO Education and will use LEGO bricks as a tool to examine increased access to opportunities for unstructured play in NSW primary schools (Fair Play 1), and access to participate in the FIRST LEGO League, as a structured play intervention, in NSW secondary schools (Fair Play 2).  The participants in this study will be students, their teachers and parents/ caregivers at the primary and secondary schools.

A particular focus of the Fair Play research will be on how the knowledge, skills, behaviours and achievements of children from different equity groups, particularly children who have limited access to toys at home, are affected by greater access to opportunities for play during their school day. Put simply, can play help to reduce the inequities that exist in Australian education? The focus of this research on children’s success in schooling will not be limited to cognitive or academic outcomes; the development of their social and emotional traits will be also explored. While there are two streams of this research (Fair Play 1 and Fair Play 2), with different intended outcomes, the data collection process will be similar. Under the guidance of Professor Pasi Sahlberg, the research team will be collecting both qualitative and quantitative data from parents, teachers and students on their experiences, both before the LEGO trial and after this. Known as triangulation, it is important to obtain data from a range of sources and using a range of methods to ensure that the complexity of the area is adequately captured. The research methodology and tools are currently being finalised, with focus groups planned for November 2019 with teachers and formal data collection during the school terms of 2020.

The project will be introduced at a Play Symposium, held in Sydney, Australia on November 15. This symposium will be hosted by GIE, with invited play researchers to share their work in this space and discuss the Fair Play project. This project has been accepted for presentations at the Australian Association for Research in Education Conference in December, where the proposed methodology will be outlined. The key literature in relation to the Fair Play project was discussed at the Australian Social Policy Conference in September. 

For more information relating to the project, please contact the Gonski Institute for Education at gonski@unsw.edu.au  

This research is funded by Frances Allen and Ian Narev. The Gonski Institute for Education is grateful for their ongoing support.