PlayBoard Staff Focus – Shauneen McCusker

PlayBoard Northern Ireland continues to introduce you to some members of the team. This time we focus on Play Development Officer Shauneen McCusker who developed and delivers PlayBoard Northern Ireland’s TOPS (Taking Outdoor Play Seriously) programme.

“When I joined PlayBoard in 2006 I came from a varied work background. I married young and by the time I was twenty six years my family was complete. During this time I focused on bringing up my three children and worked part time for family in retail and hospitality”, said Shauneen.

“However once my youngest started nursery school I knew I wanted to do something more and so the journey began,” she said.

Shauneen was keen to quickly grasp every opportunity to work with children and young people.

“I volunteered in a primary school where I was encouraged to do some courses relevant to the profession. This led to me working for several years in that school while at the same time I continued training and even went on to further education in the evenings”

“Looking back I often laugh and think what that was all about? As a result of the study I became interested in play and playwork, and although I loved working as a primary one assistant I needed more practical experience of playwork. This led to me moving to an after schools club that I managed for three years and had ample opportunity to put theory into practice. Oddly enough during this time I continued to develop my Continuous Professional Development and completed the training opportunities provided by PlayBoard. I then went onto work for SureStart as a home visitor, where I was employed when I saw the post advertised in PlayBoard for a play development officer.”

In 2006 Shauneen joined PlayBoard as a member of the Positive PlayGrounds Team.

“This was for a one year period and was a play focused project working specifically with primary schools to enhance children’s playtime experiences within the school playground. PlayBoard developed the Positive Playgrounds project in response to several factors, including the increase in childhood obesity levels in Northern Ireland, requests from schools for specific playground training, and concerns that school playgrounds were not being used to optimal levels. The programme has been delivered to over 250 Primary schools across the region. The aim of the project is to develop and enrich the provision of quality play/learning opportunities in school playgrounds. Presently primary schools across the province continue to avail of the Positive Playgrounds training.”

TOPS (taking outdoor play seriously)

In 2015 in response to growing demand Shauneen developed the programme TOPS (Taking Outdoor Play Seriously) with the support of PlayBoard management. TOPS was designed for primary schools and Shauneen recieved vital support and mentoring from Board Members Anne McDermott and Joan Henderson. TOPS is a systematic process for reviewing and improving the quality of children’s play experiences. It also aims to continue the process of deepening staff and playworkers knowledge and expertise with the objective of creating the right practice and environment in which children can play freely, learn and develop.

“TOPS is a toolkit which includes a set of standards that primary schools implement in order to receive a quality award for the outdoor play in their school. It involves working with PlayBoard for the duration of a school year to ensure support and guidance,” explained Shauneen.

“It considers both strengths and areas of improvement within each primary school and identifies the issues that can be addressed on an individual basis; thus tailoring support to meet each school’s needs. In the past the quality of play has been influenced by child protection, health and safety and more recently suggested outcomes of work in the curriculum.”

Shauneen continued: “The play quality assessment toolkit is designed to help staff evaluate the quality of their provision and requires rigorous and honest self-evaluation and a commitment to follow through, putting in place processes to ensure the strengths continue to grow whilst taking the necessary action to address areas identified for improvement.”

“TOPS ensures quality delivery and ultimately quality of play opportunities for children. Working in partnership with service providers the PlayBoard process of implementation adopts a methodology of reflective practice and self-evaluation. Every aspect of service delivery is reviewed for legislative and best practice compliance, where necessary measurable targets are set for improvement,” she said.

Over the past three years seven primary schools, including a school for children with additional needs have picked up their quality play award for their outdoor play after adopting TOPS with full support from Shauneen.

Their fantastic achievements of Ballymacash Primary School Lisburn, St. Pauls Primary School Belfast, Holy Evangelist Primary Dunmurry, Rathcoole Primary School Belfast, Limavady Central Primary School, Termoncanice Primary School Limavady, and Brookfield Primary School Moira can be seen on their school websites.

On the development of TOPS Alan Herron, PlayBoard Director of Service Delivery and Development said:
“For a number of years PlayBoard had been delivering the Positive Playgrounds programme, supporting staff in over 275 primary schools to explore how they could better integrate play and more playful environments into the ethos of the school.”

“While evaluating the programme Shauneen noticed that whilst it was effective there was a demand for a more intensive support programme that would allow schools to truly transform their spaces for play. As a result the TOPS programme was developed, offering schools an opportunity to embed play through a combination of training, dedicated support and the enhancement of their outdoor spaces for play,” he said.

On the award itself Alan said: “For a school to successfully achieve the TOPS quality assurance award is a reflection of the high level of importance they place on outdoor play and its role in supporting children’s development.”

2018-08-02T14:14:48+00:00July 4th, 2018|Latest News, Uncategorized|