Last Updated: Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Play2Learn in Bearsden Primary and St Matthew’s Primary School, East Dunbartonshire Council

What is this?

​​​​​​​​A resource to support practitioners engage in professional dialogue and collaborative practitioner enquiry on Learning through Play at the early stages of primary. Downloads and supporting text aim to illustrate the effective partnership working and evidenced based approaches involving Educational Psychologists and teaching staff.

Who is this for?

​Senior managers and staff in education communities​.

​Context: The Educational Psychologist service professional enquiry pilot initiative showed compelling evidence that the East Dunbartonshire approach to play at P1 enabled more children to make very good progress in their learning. As a result, the model of professional learning supporting the initiative was rolled out across the local authority.

Statistics from the initiative show that children involved in the Play2Learn approach are significantly more likely to achieve early level writing, reading, talking and listening than those who are not involved in this approach.​

The model: The model is informed by research and ensures that it evidences impact on learners. Throughout the initiative, schools are supported by the Education Authority’s professional learning community (PLC). The PLC includes Educational Psychologists, the central team and school staff. Sessions are timetabled in advance across the year and focus on themes (Item 1). Each school undertakes an audit (Item 2) and throughout the initiative records the professional enquiry journey in a written report format. (Item 3 and item 4).


PDF file: Item 1 – Timeline and measurements of progress (343​​​ KB)

PDF file: Item 2 – Play in Primary 1 audit document (666 KB)​

PDF file: Item 3 – Practitioner Enquiry Play2Learn report completed by a school (419 KB)

PDF file: Item 4 – Practitioner Enquiry Play2Learn report blank (322 KB)

PDF file: Item 5 Play2Learn presentation to parents (596 KB)

PDF file: Item 6 – PEF and planning at St Matthew’s Primary school (3.4 MB)​

PDF file: Item 7 – Comments on the approach one year on (145 KB)

Explore this exemplar

​What was done?

Regular face to face sessions with Educational Psychologists are planned at key points in the session. These include data analysis to reflect on progress made in each establishment. Each professional learning session is interactive, reflective and involves learning with and from each other across the local authority. Knowledge about child development and current research is shared. A coaching approach empowers staff to make decisions that reflect their context. Staff participation in good practice visits to other establishments is discussed. Outcomes from the sessions lead to bespoke action plans that meet the needs of each school community.

Participants reported that sessions discussing myth-busting were very helpful to support workshops they held with parents (Item 5) and staff in their own schools. It helped them answer the recurring question: ‘How do you know children learn through play and it’s not just messing about?’ All staff felt it was important to protect time to identify an appropriate learning space that may include both indoors and outdoors. They felt that creating their action plans ensured that they were clear about the benefits and challenges of adopting play at the early years of primary. It involved their parents fully in the change.

Assessment of progress and measurements of success are key to the improvements. Schools triangulate evidence for the professional enquiry through questionnaires, observations, the Leuven scale, Strengths and Difficulties assessment, benchmark measures and PIPs. Throughout the initiative all staff focused on where children should be in their learning. The monitoring of progress discussions were planned into the school’s existing QA approaches.

Pupil Equity Funding enabled staff in both schools to participate in the professional learning opportunity. The work prioritised closing the poverty related attainment gap. (Item 6)​


Data analyses highlighted the need to improve further children’s progress across the early level. Observations of children’s learning at P1 highlighted low engagement levels of a few children. It was clear to practitioners of the need to move away from an adult led approach.​

What was the impact?

Staff understanding of child development and how this can be used at the early stages of primary improved. Observations of learning as an effective assessment tool is embedded within practice. (Item ​7)

Play at the early stages of primary is well-planned. It priorities closing the poverty related attainment gap with ensuring excellence for all.

The progress of over 400 children involved in Play2Learn shows a statistically significant difference. As a result of the play intervention, more children achieved Curriculum for Excellence early level in reading, writing, listening and talking.

Parental understanding of the benefits is strong. They report that their child is happy at school and find learning enjoyable.

Data shows that all children in P1, make much better progress in core subjects of literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing than previous cohorts of children in the same school. Importantly, progress was accelerated for children affected by poverty.

Children’s skills of leadership and resilience are developed with children self-regulating and differentiating their own learning. They choose when and how they complete their individual targets within a session.​​​​​​