Cruyff Foundation

Pupils with special needs in Essex are enjoying health, academic and social benefits thanks to a partnership between Panathlon and the Cruyff Foundation that has revolutionised their school playgrounds.

Doucecroft School in Colchester and Treetops School in Grays have both participated in Panathlon competitions for many years. Both gladly accepted the offer of the Cruyff Foundation’s Schoolyard14 designs painted on to their playgrounds, through Panathlon’s recommendation.

The markings are bright, appealing and bespoke, so pupils and staff can choose which designs would suit their needs.

After consultation between the PE department, class teachers and the school council, Treetops School chose a boccia court and race track.

PE teacher Hannah Dennis says pupils are already benefiting in numerous ways: “A lot of our children come from mainstream schools where they may not have had many friends. It’s one of the biggest things we hear from our parents, ‘He’s finally made friends!’ Our newly decorated playground will definitely help with that process.

“It’s really bright and very visually engaging. It will encourage them to keep mobile, active and socialise. We have already seen them challenging each other to races and one of our non-verbal children was racing around the track on his scooter. It’s incredibly accessible.”

PE staff are already looking forward to using the court for lessons and in-house boccia competitions in summer. “It will really help us to encourage pupils to be more active. It’s so eye-catching that they can’t help getting involved.”

At Doucecroft, a special school for pupils with autism, they also consulted with pupils when choosing from the Cruyff Foundation’s selection of creative playground coatings.

Students drew maps of the playground and sketched the different designs out on paper. The school’s occupational therapist also joined the process. In the end they pooled everyone’s choices and pulled the winner out of a hat. It was a design featuring numbers which promotes learning alongside outdoor physical activity.

The Playground14 race track design at Treetops School

“It was lovely when the team came to apply the new markings,” says Doucecroft sports coach Andrea Griffiths. “It was so noisy when they had the burners out and we didn’t know how they would react. We also have one pupil who doesn’t like things coned off. But because the children had ownership of choosing the design, they were fascinated and watched the workmen all day.”

Andrea explains the benefits the pupils are already enjoying from the Schoolyard14: “If they are struggling in a maths lesson, a member of staff now takes them out and uses a ball or beanbag to throw at the numbers and asks them to add them together.

“It’s so bright and colourful that the children are drawn to it. If you sit two children down at a table and they are not in the right frame of mind, they may not engage with the lesson. It’s sometimes hard for our students to concentrate in a classroom setting. But take them outside and they will socialise and support each other.”

The Schoolyard14 is also used in PE lessons and lunchtimes. It helps develop the social skills of sharing equipment and taking turns that is sometimes more difficult for children on the autism spectrum. “It promotes outdoor learning and combines physical activity, academic work and social skills,” says Andrea.

Geraint Richards, Project Manager for Cruyff Foundation UK, commented: “We are thrilled with the results of our collaboration with Panathlon bringing Schoolyard14 projects to Treetops and Doucecroft. We sincerely hope that these projects ensure that pupils have safe places to play, to learn, to make friends and most importantly to have fun. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Panathlon on many more projects in the future.”

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, added: “We thank the Cryuff Foundation for identifying schools involved in Panathlon as worthy recipients of this opportunity to develop school sport for SEND pupils.

“Having worked with the schools on their applications, it is hugely pleasing to see them developing great plans to maximise the impact of the Schoolyard14 designs. We are in discussions about some local Panathlon events which will fully capitalise on their potential.”