The power of fun

By Leigh Wolmarans, Headteacher of Lings Primary School, the first national Create Learning School

To sound highly intelligent I am going to quote Albert Einstein and say that ‘Play is the highest form of research’. I am then going to show my real mental capacity by saying that I have built my life based on this single principle but only found the quote last week!

As a Headteacher you have this enviable ‘power’ to design, create and collaborate on building a school that plays. You obviously have to face the firing squad when this theory goes horribly wrong, or you allow power to corrupt your key principles, but I can honestly say that I have yet to hear the shots ring out! This concept of playing is at its strongest in physical activity, I avoid using the word sport and I will tell you why – Speedos!


I went to school in South Africa where sport was the driving force in many of the things we did and we were constantly confronted by it. This suited me because I actually love sport and could have easily spent my whole secondary school career on a rugby pitch without a single word of complaint. It didn’t suit everyone though and only now, when I have become more reflective, do I see the pain and frustration it must have caused many. It was used effortlessly as a way of berating some; making others gods and making people feel inferior. And that is where the Speedos comes in!

We had our own school swimming pool and we swam every week in the summer. I loved swimming, I was forever in the water trying to hold my breath and diving as deep as I could. Many people that still know me will tell you I still do that and have often nearly passed out just to get further than someone else. Swimming lessons were another story though! We had to wear Speedos for our lessons and obviously for those teenagers whose bodies were like temples, this was a chance to really show off, and they did! For me this was a time to feel ridiculed and to face the teasing that comes from being a large front row player. I of course fended off the comments with humour and a shrug, as most do, but underneath I feared swimming every year. I also hated the fact that the water polo team were taken to the deep end, the swim team were taken to another space and the rest of us were taken to the shallows. Did they not know how deep I could dive and how long I could hold my breath?! I still think I should have been in the Big Blue with Jean Reno. It was immediately made apparent to me that this was no longer having fun in the water and developing skills, this was sport. I am not looking for any sympathy, I was one of the lucky ones because when we ‘did’ rugby, I was always chosen first and used to bash into and run over the ‘Speedo’ brigade. Competitive justice I think it’s called.

Play was the basis of our staff training days this year and the focus was on real PE, Family FUNS and the brilliance of Create Development. I am not on commission and I don’t need to include Create Development in this article, I mention them because they have built a whole company on the power of fun and play. Do not confuse play or fun with chaos that has no impact and benefit. When playing and having fun the intention is always to learn and to teach others. These principles drive everything this company does and is the key reason we use real PE across the curriculum.

When you place 25 members of staff in the hands of a trainer for two separate days you sometimes wonder if that same firing squad is beginning to oil their weapons and get their uniforms dry-cleaned. There are many insecurities when you engage in physical activities and the ‘Speedo’ panic is felt by many in many different contexts. These feelings and emotions flood back in and can quite literally cause people to disengage and refuse to be involved. I watched our staff walk in to the hall on our Inset day and I can honestly say I had absolutely no worries about how the two days would go. Why, because I knew that we would be playing! That’s what Liam Nicell and Tim Dancer do better then most!

And that is what we did! We played and engaged with each other on a physical and emotional level and laughed till our sides hurt. The laughter was never based on ridicule; it was based on a mutual appreciation and a commitment to providing our learners with a well-rounded curriculum that develops the whole child. We also all know that if we are ever going to ask our children to trust us then we need to come out of our comfort zones on a regular basis and to trust those around us. I must add that this is the same staff that all ballroom dance on a Thursday afternoon and have gone on to get their bronze medals. This is the same staff that have dressed up and stood on stage every year at our Lings Talent Show. They are the same staff that run at sports day, dance with the dance teacher, sing at weekly music sessions and attend the theatre on a regular basis. In short, they are staff that play. They play and laugh!

What better way to have started the year then by being involved in physical activity that has the power to change lives. Not just the lives of the children in our school but the lives of those that teach and learn there. With the power of Family FUNS we will also change the lives of those that are parents at Lings. They will also join us and we will all laugh and play together because a school that laughs and plays is successful in everything it does. Now we just need to convert that play and laughter in to some sort of data so that people will start to take notice of the power it has to change lives. Oh well, there’s the next challenge for Create Development!