Can ‘Play’ lead to Academic Success?

Being married to a teacher means that a heated discussion about education is usually not far away. However our two jobs, on paper, seem a million miles away. My wife teaches Early Year Foundation and Year 1, whilst I only teach upper school Economics. My planning often involves a PowerPoint or creating resources, her’s often involves one thing, planning ‘play’ opportunities. Our work was always very distant in nature.

Over the past few years I have pushed myself to play at least one ‘game’ per topic to represent whichever theory we are covering. For instance, I have used a Stock Market game where pupils have to buy and sell assets in a country based on the economic cycle, a simple model. Or I have played a ‘Casino’ game, designed to show pupils about the existence of Moral Hazard in financial markets. When I told my wife about these “games” or “simulations” she said I wasn’t planning for learning, but instead was planning for “Continuous Provision”. It seems that our planning was not as far apart as I thought.

‘Continuous Provision’ as it is known in primary circles is defined by Alistair Bryce-Clegg (a leading expert in the field my wife says) as “continuing the provision for learning in the absence of an adult” ( The idea is that pupils, if “interested and engaged” will naturally challenge themselves independently, hopefully leading to greater creativity, resilience and learning in their work. This leaves teachers free to observe surroundings in their class, offering differentiation to those who need it, and constantly assessing the understanding taking place.

Learning Economics through play has opened many opportunities for my teaching. For one, I have found the pace pupils have been able to work through theory is greatly enhanced after playing a simulation, and so is their ability to analyse the impacts of a theory because they have already played it out! For students, they are happy to not be sat through another PowerPoint but to be playing ‘games’ all lesson. As one group likes to chant as they approach Microeconomics on a Wednesday, “GAME DAY, GAME DAY!”. At the very least, it is nice to see students approaching a potentially dry subject engaged.

Valuable life lessons can be taught through simulations as well, as there is almost always a ‘loser’ in a game (which leads to conversations about poverty and inequality), likewise questions about team-work (hint – most US students can’t be trusted) and rationality often come out in a post-simulation debrief.

I am aware that Economics does lend itself to simulation however. After all, we are the study of choice and how competitive processes play out and impact society. Can ‘play’ generate the same enthusiasm and learning in other subjects? I firmly believe, with appropriately planned activities, any subject in any scenario can benefit from continuous provision. Fancy giving it a go? Email me or comment below, I’m happy to be proved wrong!


SJJ – 30/09/2017

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