Will increasing the time I dedicate to targeted outdoor play with my SEND support child increase their progress in CLL.

By: F.A


This study focuses on how practitioners can increase the attainment of children with needs but without the relevant hours to support that child (EHCP). As the demand for specialist support in school soars with the strains of budget cuts to local authorities, it is proving to be the most vulnerable children in society that may end up without the support they are entitled.
This study explored the effectiveness of designating specific time for one SEN child using targeted outdoor play. Therefore this study aims to improve the provision provided for children coming into reception with needs but without an EHCP, aiming to find a solution in supporting them with limited resources.


‘The proportion of children with special educational needs and disabilities has not necessarily changed, but teachers are now looking more carefully at how they may be able to use quality teaching to better meet individual needs,’ ‘If the needs can be met by better teaching, then those children should not be included on the SEN register.’ – Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN).
For schools and early years settings, these changes have introduced new ways of working and fresh challenges. However, in a research report published by the DFE in 2017, it was identified that these, “new ways” of working are very varied when comparing settings to settings.
The purpose of this network was to provide a supportive, participant driven, learning community through which schools and settings can analyse the effectiveness of their provision for children with Special Educational Needs, enhance their own practice through action research and deepen their understanding of how to best meet the individual needs of the children in their care.

Context of the school:

Highlands is a larger than average-sized primary school where 33% of pupils are from an Asian or Asian British Pakistani heritage. Other pupils are from a variety of other ethnic heritages, including Asian or Asian British Indian (22%), Asian or Asian British Bangladeshi (17%). 80% of pupils speak English as an additional language. This is well above the national average. 13% of pupils are known to be eligible for the pupil premium. This is below the national average. The proportion of pupils who have an education, health and care plan or statement is around the national average. The proportion of pupils who receive special needs support is around the national average.


The research strategy used was an ethnographic one, whereby I carried out the data collection in the child’s own environment (Callan and Reed, 2011). Ethnography stresses the importance of understanding the issue from the perspective of those that are directly involved (Denscombe, 2010) therefore being in the environment with the children is vital. As I have been working at the school and am the class teacher, the children have familiarised themselves with me and feel comfortable in my presence. Ethnographic research is usually carried out in a naturalistic setting opposed to an experimental setting; this strategy best suited my rationale to gain an understanding of play and the link to CLL (Mukherji and Albon, 2015).

Action research
In teaching, action research is defined by involving practitioners in examining and evaluating their own work with a focus on improving their own practices as a practitioner and also the practitioners around them (Mukherji and Albon. 2015). It often takes place when practitioners are trying to tackle an issue or problem that they are facing, this often means that the researcher will involve planning, acting upon, observing and reflecting upon an issue or problem that has some relevance to practice (Mukherji and Albon. 2015), thus proving that this form of research fits well with my study as I have found a gap in the current provision provided to some SEND children and am looking for a way to better and enhance the current practice.

A review of research that informed this study:

Outdoor Play and Social Development.
Outdoor play provides a platform for children to develop socially and learn the norms and behaviours of how to act within society, which is an important life skill that will prove to be useful in their future interactions (Landreth, 2012). Early relationships provide grounds for later developmental outcomes and affect their holistic development. A report by Gleave and Cole-Hamiliton (2012) discusses how play amongst peers affects the way in which they relate to others, this can be because when children play they use their own culture, rules and values to help them find their own identity (Moyles, 2010). Those children that are confident in communicating and playing with others are usually able to develop the skill of seeing things from their peer’s perspectives and forming an understanding and empathy towards the characteristics of others, this understanding can then lead to other skills such as problem solving, cooperation and sharing (Lovett, 2009). Sutton-Smith (1997: cited in Singer et al., 2006) found that activities which institute rules such as turn taking, sharing, tag and football are important developmental tasks for a child that is in an early years setting. These activities can be typically found in an outdoor environment which could suggest that the outdoor environment is central factor in facilitating the social development of children. Research by Henniger (1985 cited in Bilton, 1998) could conform to this idea as he found that indoor environments can hinder the social development of some children; moreover he found that some children would engage in more ‘dramatic play’, (which involved imitation within play and is enacted alone or with others), when outdoors which would encourage socialisation amongst their peers. However, Henniger (1985 cited in Bilton, 1998) found no major difference between cooperative play when indoors or outdoors.
Although it is clear to see the importance outdoor play has to social development, research by White (2011) proposes that adults influence on children’s play is imperative in ensuring the best possible outcome for the child, he further suggests that practitioners needs to influence and support learning through outdoor play. This point leads on to the next part of the literature review which will discuss practitioner’s role in supporting development through play.
Vygotsky (1978 cited in Moyles, 2010) maintained the idea that learning is a social process and that through play children build knowledge and understanding of their surroundings. Vygotsky (1978, cited in Moyles, 2010) further implied that children’s learning is heightened when playing alone or with peers in a well-resourced area that is structured to reflect their own cultural interests and intellect. However, he believed that adults scaffolding supports advancement in the child’s learning through his theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1978 cited in Doherty and Hughes, 2009) which refers to the difference between what the children can do by themselves compared the times when adults can offer help and advice that could critically benefit their learning. This gives the indication that the role of practitioners in outdoor play environments could hugely benefit the developmental process of a child, for example a child learning how to use tools (Wood, 2013) to plant flowers may need the assistance from a responsible adult to gain expert knowledge. Bilton (1998) further suggests that if children are continuously left to play alone they could fall into a repetitive form of play with little progression in development, thus the interaction from practitioners proves to be vital to increase social and emotional competence through questions and suggestions made via the practitioner.

Person-centred planning (PCP)
PCP is a set of approaches designed to assist an individual to plan their life and supports. It is most often used for life planning with people with learning and developmental disabilities, though recently it has been advocated as a method of planning personalised support with many other sections of society who find themselves disempowered by traditional methods of service delivery, including children, people with physical disabilities, people with mental health issues and older people. PCP is accepted as evidence based practice in many countries throughout the world.

Background of child at the beginning of reception:

Child A is selective mute and says very few words in reception and on some days he may not say any words at all. Child A finds it difficult to give eye contact to adults and to peers and will often look at them in a sideways glance. He shows very little emotion on his face and on an occasion where he finds something remotely funny, he will cover his face and hide his amusement. Child A is finding it challenging to choose activities and resources independently within the class, he is often found wondering around observing others and will occasionally play alongside his peers. Child A has had a talk boost assessment and it has been reported that he did not communicate with words during this one to one session and he would only point. He was shown pictures of a boy sleeping, a girl eating and a boy sitting on a box. The teacher asked him questions such as “show me who’s eating” and he would always respond by pointing to the boy that is sleeping.
Child A’s mum has also raised concerns about his communication especially when he is hurt or needs help. She has told us that when he has previously hurt himself in front of new or unfamiliar adults he will not cry out or tell anyone, even if it is a serious injury.

An overview of practice:

The project was conducted in a Reception setting over a year. Following on from informal discussions with the Early Years practitioners in the setting, it became evident that the children coming into reception with SEND but without an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) was significantly high and therefore designated time allocated to support their individual needs would be required in order for them to make progress. Therefore it was concluded that the following needed to be implemented:
1. Adjusting the timetable in class to ensure that adult child interactions were taking place for child A.
2. 10 minutes of targeted outdoor play every day to support Child A’s communication and language skills.
3. Ensuring that all practitioners were aware of child A’s needs and implementing time specific interactions that would take place in class such as targeted outdoor play.
4. Meeting with parents to discuss the progress that child A is making.

As a team we looked heavily on adult interactions in reception, improving adult child interactions during targeted play to model social skills and scaffold language used during play and with peers. Therefore the practitioners were trained to use Blatchford’s Shared Sustained Thinking questioning techniques during their interactions with children outdoors.
• Asking open ended questions
• Sharing and sustaining thinking
• Tuning into the child’s learning by listening, watching and observing
• Showing genuine interest
• Respecting decisions made by the child
• Inviting children to elaborate
• Re-capping
• Offering out your own experience
• Clarifying ideas
• Suggesting alternatives
• Reminding
• Encouraging
• Speculating
• Modelling thinking through spoken internal dialogue


Child A made above excellent progress in all areas of CLL. He is now talking to his peers in class and is becoming confident to engage with adults during play as well as small group sessions. In the beginning of the year, Child A was not able to communicate with anybody in class and is now talking to adults and peers in short sentences. He is continuing to work on his confidence in large class discussions but has made excellent progress in all areas of CCL in the Early Years curriculum. The following chart shows that he has made continual progress since Autumn1 when this research project was first introduced.


(click on picture to enlarge)


One of the major implications faced during this project was changing practitioner’s perceptions on the importance of outdoor learning. It was identified that some adults did not share the same value in the importance of outdoor targeted play. During outdoor sessions practitioners generally focused on monitoring the safety of children instead of high quality interactions and collecting evidence.
In order for this model to work, practitioners need to be engaged with developing the strategies identified in their interactions with children outdoors. Therefore, regular CPD sessions need to be delivered across the setting.
This research project has proven to be successful in supporting Child A with his communication and language skills through good time management and an understanding of how to support SEND children. This suggests that daily targeted play for children in the areas that they are most comfortable can support their attainment through scaffolding in play. The project was targeted towards one child and will be applied the following year with all the children with SEND but without an EHCP.


– Ensuring new members of reception staff are confident in their knowledge of the Early Years curriculum and can understand the importance of play based learning. This can be achieved through regular SEND training for additional adults.
– Think about facilitating your team to take ownership of the project to continue leading it to further enhance the desired outcomes.
– Think about how you will manage the time allocated for targeted play, consider adapting your current timetable to aid this.