On Wednesday 8th June newly appointed Minister for Education, Peter Weir MLA presented Ballymacash Primary School, Lisburn with the first ever PlayBoard ‘TOPS’ Quality Assurance Award for Outdoor Play in Schools.  The award, developed and overseen by PlayBoard – the lead organisation for play in Northern Ireland, recognises the significant work and commitment shown by the school to enhancing its outdoor space in order to enhance and broaden play opportunities.

PlayBoard Latest News: Ballymacash Primary School TOPS Award - Kids Playing Outside
PlayBoard Latest News: Ballymacash Primary School TOPS Award - Kids Playing In Playground

Explaining the background to the initiative, the principal of Ballymacash Stephen Gray said:

“In February last year we brought PlayBoard in to provide some training for the schools staff on how we could enhance opportunities for play within the school.  This led in September 2015 to our securing funding from the Big Lottery ‘Awards for All’ programme to embark on a process of transforming the outdoor environment to broaden opportunities for play during break times.”

“With the ongoing support and expertise of PlayBoard we established a Play Working Group and worked with the pupils to identify how we could provide more varied play opportunities. This led us to transforming our outdoor space by introducing many new play opportunities including a messy play kitchen, free standing chalk boards, loose parts play and large scale junk construction, setting up chill out areas, shaving foam art, ice exploration and much more.”

“I would like to pay tribute to the hard work and belief of the schools Play Working Group in making the changes happen; the quality playtimes our children now enjoy are testimony and reward for their work.”

PlayBoard Latest News: Ballymacash Primary School TOPS Award - Kids Playing Outside

Congratulating the school, Jacqueline O’Loughlin PlayBoard CEO said:

“We in PlayBoard are delighted to award the first ever ‘TOPS ‘ Quality Assurance Award for Outdoor Play in School to Ballymacash Primary School.  This award is recognition of the schools commitment to providing children with innovative and creative play opportunities; play opportunities that support and enhance the education and learning process by contributing to skills and knowledge development”.

“For over 12 years PlayBoard has been working to improve children’s school based play experiences through a range of training and play support programmes. Building on this experience, in 2015 we developed the ‘TOPS’ Quality Assurance Programme and Award for Outdoor Play aimed at supporting schools to transform the outdoor environment to encourage and support greater variety in play.”

“Play is one of the main ways children learn about the world around them. Play is natural and instinctive, allowing children to test their own abilities and to learn and develop new skills and knowledge.  As such play has a critical role in schools – offering both an outlet for expending energy during break times and as a means of contributing to learning through the curriculum. Ballymacash can be rightly proud of this achievement and I have no hesitation in saying that as a TOPS school they are committed to enhancing opportunities for play-based curricular learning; broadening active and social play; and better meeting children’s natural play needs.”

PlayBoard Latest News: Ballymacash Primary School TOPS Award - 2016

A key element in the transformation made to the outdoor play environment was the work and commitment of the schools Play Working Group. The group, which is made up of a committed team of teaching and non-teaching staff, recognised early on the value outdoor play can bring to the education process.

PlayBoard Latest News: Ballymacash Primary School TOPS Award - Kids Playing Dress Up

Speaking about the initiative Laura Spence from the Play Working Group said:

“When we set out to improve the range of play opportunities available we knew that we had to involve the children and they have had a key role in guiding developments.”

Judith Allen, also a member of the Play Working Group added:

“By delivering a wider range of outdoor, physical and creative play activities the school is better able to meet the natural play needs of the children whilst delivering enhanced learning and skills development, improving health and wellbeing and support social connections.”

Lisa Armstrong and Lauren Belshaw from the Play Working Group highlighted the impact of the changes adding that the new mud kitchen and outdoor classroom have enhanced outdoor play opportunities and made the outdoor space more visually stimulating for the children.

Speaking at the event Education Minister Peter Weir said:

“This is the first time this award has been presented and I am very pleased that Ballymacash Primary School is the first recipient. Play is essential to a child’s development. It is how friendships are made and provides an opportunity to learn and exercise in a fun way.

Ballymacash is a school, which with the expert support of PlayBoard, has taken a truly creative and innovative approach to enhancing learning through play. The Principal, the staff and the children should be congratulated for how they have transformed the outdoor school environment.”

Ballymacash Primary School

Founded in 1790, Ballymacash PS is the oldest educational institution in north Lisburn and is in its 84th year of learning on the current site. The original building, opened in 1931, has been extended and now includes a purpose built Nursery Unit, a library, a music tuition room and a Playgroup.

The main school building was opened in 1981 and, over the past 5 years the school has grown from 316 pupils to 378 today. In January 2016 the school was granted an increase in enrolment from 350 to 406 pupils.

Also on site there is a dual day nursery unit catering for 52 children and a playgroup. The school have applied to round 3 of the Executives Bright Start funding programme (which falls under the remit of the Department of Education) to establish on-site School Age Childcare provision.

The school draws its pupils from a combination of local housing developments and further afield. The school has a wide intake of pupils from both private and social housing – with a current FSM uptake of about 25%. Ballymacash consistently sends 40-50% of their pupils to grammar school. The present staffing consists of the Principal plus eighteen full-time teachers, a Nursery teacher, a Literacy Support teacher, a Numeracy Support/EAL teacher and twelve classroom assistants.

As a school community, parents are very supportive of their children’s education raising £7250 last year through PTA and donating £5500 to charity. Paul Givan MLA, recently appointed as Minister for the Department of Communities, currently serves as a member of the School Board of Governors.

The core motto of Ballymacash Primary School is ‘A place where we Develop, Achieve and Enjoy.’