PlayBoard NI’s

TOPS: Taking Outdoor Play Seriously Quality Award

PlayBoard’s Taking Outdoor Play Seriously (TOPS) Quality Assurance Award is a unique, intensive, play-based programme that supports schools to achieve a transformation of their school environment to encourage and support outdoor play.

  • Delivered during the course of an academic year, TOPS adopts a whole-school approach ensuring sustained success.

  • Cost-effective programme offering high-quality training and support to produce powerful results.

  • Join an exclusive group of schools across Northern Ireland recognised for Taking Outdoor Play Seriously.


  • Increased understanding of the importance of play, play types, the play environment, the impact of play within schools, and the many benefits play affords children.

  • Embedding a positive play ethos throughout the whole school.

  • Transformation of schools’ outdoor areas into magical places for play, directly contributing to pupils’ development and learning.

  • Increased participation between staff, children and young people, and their parents in the development of their play environment.

  • Improvements in children’s behaviour, attentiveness, skills development, happiness, and enjoyment of playtimes.

Transforming Your Play Spaces

Play is essential for children’s learning and development. Schools have a crucial role in helping meet the play needs of children and young people. For many children and young people, school playtimes may be the only daily physical activity they engage in. Read more on play in schools

Following evaluation of PlayBoard’s Positive PlayGrounds programme, TOPS was established due to the need for a more substantial programme of training and support for staff alongside play-based, participative work with pupils, and input from parents, in order to embed play-based approaches within schools’ underlying ethos.

The programme aids schools to excel in outdoor play through revolutionising their play approach and school estate – placing play at the core of children’s education and development.

TOPS-achieving schools have seen outdoor play change dramatically. As well as implementing the TOPS Standards to ensure planned outcomes, schools have gained bonus outcomes: extended time for play, integration of year groups, and increased accessibility of previously restricted areas for outdoor play.

Schools have immense potential to provide outstanding outdoor play opportunities. If you would like to discover how TOPS can transform your school please get in touch to discuss options.

Training Programme

  • Flexible training programme which can be adjusted to individual school needs, with a number of Special Schools now participating in the programme.

  • Activity is focused on six key areas, supporting schools as they work to embed play at all levels: play activities and approaches, leadership and governance, participative practice, transforming outdoor spaces, partnership working, and links to curriculum.

  • Encompasses a range of approaches and activities including: staff training, play audits, participation work with pupils, engagement with parents/carers.

  • Following independent assessment, schools which have provided sufficient evidence of quality implementation will be presented with the TOPS Award.

  • The TOPS Award must be renewed every two years to ensure that quality standards are maintained.


  • Unique programme in Northern Ireland, established by PlayBoard in 2015 following the success of our Positive PlayGrounds training programme.

  • 19 schools have achieved the TOPS Award.

  • 10 schools supported by the Department of Education in 2021/22 to achieve TOPS, with a focus on Covid-19 recovery.

  • Improved play experiences for almost 6,000 children and young people, with families engaged in the development of their playgrounds.

  • Teachers reported improvements in children and young people’s behaviour, planning, focus, self-control, awareness, and flexibility within school due to improved play.

Participant Feedback

“There is so much more to say and I feel this evaluation is only hitting the tip of the iceberg. However, we cannot thank TOPS (PlayBoard) enough, for challenging our thinking in regards to play and for their continuous encouragement along the way. Our staff have been so encouraged by the whole positive impact TOPS has had on our children’s play, our children as a whole, our staff and our school environment”. Carr Primary School

“We are delighted to receive this prestigious award, recognising all the hard work that the school community has put in to enhancing our play opportunities at King’s Park. We know that children learn best when they are happy and engaged and play is a great tool to ensure this.” King’s Park Primary School

“I have found myself using the playground for lessons with my own class. Before, most of my lessons were inside but after the zones opened up I have taken my class to the sand pit to practice letter and number formation; to the mud kitchen to link in with our spring topic; perfume making with spring flowers; and small world tuft trays to study the mini beasts the children collected as part of our World Around Us. I have also seen other teachers in other year groups using the playground to facilitate outdoor lessons which was rare to see pre-TOPS.” St Colmcille’s Primary School


Listen to our TOPS podcast episode to hear from two local teachers on their experience of the programme.

Get In Touch

If you would like to improve outdoor play at your school and provide your pupils with quality play experiences, get in touch.

For more information email and one of our experienced staff members will be in contact to discuss your requirements.