Information on Playwork


Playwork is an emerging professional field with an increasingly recognised and qualified workforce.

Playwork offers services which open up opportunities for children to play, and have the freedom to choose what they want to to do.  Playwork services allow for risk in play opportunities for children and young people who are usually, but not exclusively, between 4 and 16 years of age. Good playwork will always, by its nature, aim to be inclusive of children of different abilities, ethnic background and circumstances.

Playworkers work in a range of settings, both statutory and voluntary, which aim to provide for children’s play, such as out-of-school clubs, playschemes, adventure playgrounds. They may also work in a number of more specialised settings such as hospitals, refuges or family services, in which providing for play has been recognised as an important way of supporting children.

‘Playworker’ is the favoured term in the field over the older term play leader (which implies adults leading and therefore controlling children’s play – the opposite of good playwork). Similarly it is preferred to the term ‘play-care worker’ an ambiguous term which shifts the focus from the child’s play needs.

Playworkers aim to facilitate the child’s play, by providing the opportunities for  the child to play as they want. The Playworker would ensure that they have minimum intervention in the child’s play, unless the child invites the adult into the play or there is a specific health and safety risk.

Playwork Principles

These Principles establish the professional and ethical framework for playwork and as such must be regarded as a whole.

They describe what is unique about play and playwork, and provide the playwork perspective for working with children and young people.

They are based on the recognition that children and young people’s capacity for positive development will be enhanced if given access to the broadest range of environments and play opportunities.

1. All children and young people need to play. The impulse to play is innate. Play is a biological, psychological and social necessity, and is fundamental to the healthy development and well being of individuals and communities.

2. Play is a process that is freely chosen, personally directed and intrinsically motivated. That is, children and young people determine and control the content and intent of their play, by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.

3. The prime focus and essence of playwork is to support and facilitate the play process and this should inform the development of play policy, strategy, training and education.

4. For playworkers, the play process takes precedence and playworkers act as advocates for play when engaging with adult led agendas.

5. The role of the playworker is to support all children and young people in the creation of a space in which they can play.

6. The playworker’s response to children and young people playing is based on a sound up to date knowledge of the play process, and reflective practice.

7. Playworkers recognise their own impact on the play space and also the impact of children and young people’s play on the playworker.

8. Playworkers choose an intervention style that enables children and young people to extend their play. All playworker intervention must balance risk with the developmental benefit and well being of children.

You can obtain a copy of the Playwork Principles from

The role of the playworker

The playworker is engaged with enabling or facilitating play opportunities. The way that they do this is characterised as ‘low intervention, high response’. That is, the playworkers should do everything possible to ensure that choice and control of their play stays with the child. Playworkers make themselves available to respond to the needs or the invitation of the child.

The degree of ‘enabling’ a playworker might do depends on the needs, personality, age and ability of the child or children – or even just the mood of the children on a particular day.

Best Play (2000) suggests two key tasks of playworkers: enrichment of play and management of risk.

The playworker’s core function is to create an environment which will stimulate children’s play and maximise their opportunities for a wide range of play experiences. A skilled and experienced playworker is capable of enriching the child’s play experience both in terms of the design and resources of the physical environment and in terms of the attitudes and culture fostered within the play setting.’

A playworker will bring new dimensions to the play environment, act as a resource for the children and provide some of the stimulus for new experiences. For example, the playworker might arrange to bring in musicians and sculptors, tools and junk materials, storytellers and parents to share skills.

Other aspects of playwork practice

Playwork recognises the importance of risk in children’s play and playworkers actively support play opportunities that offer risk and challenge to the children. Experienced playworkers’ role in managing risk requires professional judgement regarding when and how to intervene in children’s play. They should be aware of not disrupting the play unnecessarily while ensuring the children aren’t exposed to unacceptable risks.

Other roles of the playworker include acting as an advocate for children and children’s play, building relationships and networks, undertaking organisational and project development tasks.

Particular significance is given to skills both in observation of children’s play and reflective practice in order to improve the play environment, provision or playwork practice. A number of practitioners and settings have developed tools and practices which aid observation and reflective practice such as reflective diaries recorded by individuals or groups.


Playworkers can make extensive use of networks resulting in a range of benefits to the provision. Networks can be likened to a web of relationships with potential funders, volunteers, outside agencies, the local community, politicians, families.

The value of contact with other playworkers should not be overlooked. Study visits and exchanges are especially useful – whether it is with a nearby club, with a provision elsewhere in Scotland or further afield. Membership of relevant professional organisations can keep the playworker up-to-date with invaluable information and ideas from the field. Access to the internet also greatly increases the possibility of being in contact with the playwork community nationally and internationally.

Qualifications and Training

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) are the regulatory body which registers all workers in the Day Care of Childrens Services. Playworkers working in Out of School Care, Play centres and Playschemes fall within this category. Registration to the register is now part of Scottish Law. The registration catagories are linked to job function which in tur is linked to qualifications. Currently a support worker would register with the SVQ ;Level 2 Playwork or National Progression Award. A Playwork Practitioner would register with an SVQ Level 3 Playwork or an HNC with Playwork options. A Lead Practitioner/Manager in Playwork, would register with an SVQ Level 4 Playwork , in the first instance leading to a SCQF Level 9 qualification such as the PDQ Childhood Practice at SCQF Level 9 or a BA in Childhood Practice. (Please view the SSSC web site to view further qualifications linked to registration requirements). The Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Framework Active Leisure and Wellbeing at level 2 and level 3 has a pathway for Playwork. The National Manager for Scotland for SkillsActive can provide further guidance on qualifications and training and MA’s

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Current Debate

As in any field the role of the professional playworker is discussed and debated. Current debate concerns the relationship of playwork to other professions for example, childcare and education; the degree to which playwork should challenge dominant trends in society; the role of playworkers in therapeutic practice; how to make the case for play and playwork heard by policy makers; and how to increase public awareness and understanding of the value of play.
– Theresa Casey

Play is becoming a current hot topic for the Scottish Government as it forms one of the key outcomes in the Early Years Framework.  This adds to the debate about risk and play as opposed to play and education. The new long awaited Scottish Government Play Strategy sets out the governments vision for play in Scotland

Link to Scottish Government Early Years Framework

Link to Play Strategy


Brown F. (ed) (2003) Playwork Theory and Practice. Buckingham: Open University Press
NPFA (2000) Best Play – what play provision should do for children, London: NPFA/Children’s Play Council/PLAYLINK (2001) Making sense – playwork in practice. London: PLAYLINK Hughes B. (2001) Evolutionary Playwork and Reflective Analytic Practice. London: Routledge