Transform your primary school's break time

Transform your primary school's break time

Break time makes up around 20% of the school day, is one of the main motivators pupils have for going to school, and can be crucial for children to achieve their 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

And yet it’s often overlooked and increasingly being cut.

But for the sake of our children’s health and wellbeing, break times can no longer be forgotten or disregarded.


2.3 million children now do less than an average of 30 minutes of physical activity a day, 94,000 fewer children and young people are active compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the number of children with a probable mental health disorder has increased from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in 2021.

And so, here we look at how you can create a playground that achieves its potential and provides children with an enriching environment.


The current picture of primary school break time


Duration of break time

The amount of break time KS1 pupils get per week has reduced by 45 minutes since 1995, with KS2 pupils seeing a 40 minute reduction.

Lunch breaks are being made shorter and afternoon breaks seem to be disappearing. Just over half of children aged 5 – 7 have a break in the afternoon, falling to 15% for children aged 7 – 11, despite studies finding children who have afternoon breaks are significantly fitter.

When investigating the reasons behind these cuts, creating more time for curriculum coverage and managing poor behaviour are two of the main reasons cited.


Views on break time

How staff view break time seems to be at odds with how children view break time.

The purpose of break time is unclear to many schools, there’s a lack of clarity around why it’s valuable and how it can support school aims and children’s development.

Staff see break times as needing to be short and tightly managed, stressing the challenges that include poor behaviour and the quality of supervision.

In contrast, break times are viewed positively by the majority of pupils who would like the time to be extended and activity opportunities increased.


Supervision at break time

Staff supervise at a distance in over half of primary schools. When it comes to training and support for supervisors, the approach is predominantly informal, typically taking the form of job description discussions, conversations as and when they are needed, and meetings.


With a lack of clarity about the purpose of break time, minimal supervisor support and training, pressures to deliver an ever-expanding curriculum and raise attainment, and poor behaviour, is it any wonder that break time is disappearing?

But cutting break time can in fact be counterproductive.


What are the benefits of break time?

  • Break times contribute to a child’s recommended daily physical activity
  • Break times are an opportunity for children to socialise, learn to resolve conflicts, take turns and problem solve
  • Break times provide a break from learning, allowing cognitive rest
  • Break times benefit classroom engagement
  • Physical activity breaks can improve learning by enhancing brain function
  • Breaks can increase children’s productivity
  • Breaks can reduce stress
  • Regular breaks can reduce disruptive behaviour
  • Break times can increase pupils’ effort and ability to stay on task
  • Break time is a chance for creative play and divergent thinking
  • Break times can improve academic achievement


But as we’ve seen there are barriers to these benefits, barriers that also include a lack of resources, equipment and activities, poor safety and an ineffective use of space.

And so, without an effective outlet for their bounds of energy, behaviour issues arise, creating a chaotic playground.

Pupils are then prevented from reaping the rewards of quality break times, staff’s perceptions of break time are negative, and schools see it as something that can be cut.

So, what’s the solution to overcome these obstacles?

We have two.


Solution number 1:


Playground Activator

Playground Activator is a Sports Leaders UK accredited training programme that up-skills your workforce to help pupils be more active, more often on the playground.


Who’s the course for?

Playground supervisors and support staff.


How long is the course?

One day or two half days.


What do learners gain?

  • Learn how to set up and run safe and inclusive physical activities during lunchtime and playtime
  • Understand the skills, qualities and values of a Playground Activator
  • Develop techniques on how to manage behaviour in the playground
  • Understand how to motivate participants and introduce competitions
  • Recognise the importance of healthy lifestyles, including emotional wellbeing
  • Gain ideas surrounding wet playtime


What does the course include?

  • On-site delivery from an accredited Playground Activator tutor
  • Resource pack
  • A bag of play equipment
  • Bespoke report and suggested actions
  • Certificates of completion for delegates
  • One follow-up support and assessment session



Solution number 2:


PlayMaker Award


The PlayMaker Award introduces pupils to leadership and develops their organisation, communication and teamwork.

Developed by Sports Leaders UK, the award boosts children’s confidence and skills, engages more children across the whole school in physical activity and decreases behaviour incidents on the playground.


Who’s the course for?



How long is the course?

One day consisting of five sessions.


What do pupils gain?

  • Learn how to lead a variety of games and activities
  • Improve their communication skills and learn how to motivate peers
  • Develop key leadership skills and become a mentor for other pupils
  • Advance problem-solving skills and grow confidence and self-esteem
  • Deliver all the above skills to a group of young learners



How can your school fund these two programmes?

Your PE and sport premium can be used for both Playground Activator and the PlayMaker Award.

Something to bear in mind if you’ve got premium to use before the end of academic year deadline.


To sum up

Whilst break times can be one of the most enjoyable parts of the school day for pupils, they can be a dread for staff.

Barriers such as a lack of equipment, staff training and activities prevent schools from experiencing the benefits of meaningful break times. This means their value isn’t seen and cuts are being made.

But overcoming these obstacles is essential as quality break times can be key to the physical, social, cognitive, personal and emotional development of children.

For some, the school day provides their only opportunity to be active, and break time may be one of the few chances they have for face-to-face peer interaction.

By developing the skills, knowledge and confidence of supervisors and pupils, break time can support your school’s aims and children’s development.


Get in touch to find out more about Playground Activator or the PlayMaker Award to create a playground that achieves its potential.