The aim of this research project was to develop a survey to gather the attitudes of primary school teachers across the island of Ireland towards play, including a special focus on attitudes towards play for the inclusion of autistic learners within primary school classrooms. Given the significant lack of research in this area, the project sought to provide insight into primary school teachers’ current play beliefs across the island of Ireland and facilitate the development of a measure of teachers’ play beliefs for future research.
Play is central to early childhood development (Singer, Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2003; Whitebread et al., 2012). This is reflected within both national (NCCA, 2009) and international policy recommendations (UNCRC, 1989). However, it remains unclear as to whether such values translate into practice. As a result, it is timely to systematically examine teachers’ perceptions of play within primary school education and to provide data on a significant gap within the play literature. Also, it is important to examine teachers’ attitudes towards play for inclusion. Specifically in the context of widening diversity of classrooms, including increasing numbers of autistic children accessing mainstream education (DES, 2019), as well as a dearth of knowledge on play for inclusion within the primary school classroom (O’Keeffe & McNally, 2020).
The SCoTENS seed funding supported a pilot study of teacher and child attitudes to play in education and involved several key data collection phases in order to develop a robust and rigorous measure of teacher attitudes to play in education. First, the literature was systematically searched to identify questions that had previously been used in empirical published research to assess teacher attitudes to play in education, with an additional search specifically for research on play for inclusive education. Second, parents and primary school-aged children (aged 8 or older) were invited to interviews to inform the development of the survey measure content. Lastly, primary school teachers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were interviewed in semi-structured online interviews (20-30 minutes) to facilitate the development of an appropriate survey instrument in order to ascertain teachers’ play beliefs. During the interview, participants were prompted by the facilitator with a series of questions to ascertain their attitudes towards play in education more broadly and play for the inclusion of autistic pupils. Drawing together input from children, parents, teachers and the published literature, we developed a teacher questionnaire to measure attitudes to play in primary school education.
The questionnaire developed in this study will be tested and validated beyond the lifecycle of this project and will become an openly accessible resource, making an important contribution to play research. By developing a robust instrument to ascertain teachers’ attitudes towards play and play for inclusion of autistic learners within the classroom, our measure will facilitate future rigorous research in this field. Given that this is an emerging area of research, this project involved close consultation with key stakeholders (Milton, 2019; Fletcher-Watson et al., 2019) whereby parents and teachers of autistic children and school-aged children were invited to contribute their views at the beginning of the project, in formulating interview and survey content including aspects that they feel are important in the context of this research.