The Job and What's Involved

Playworkers work with children and young people to provide a safe, exciting and fun space in which to play, socialise, try out new things or just spend quiet time. Working in teams, they may work with children ranging between the ages of four and sixteen, or with one particular age group.

The idea of freely chosen, self-directed play is integral to playwork and all playwork settings aim to encourage children and young people to decide and control the content and intent of their play by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.

Playworkers may find themselves invited to join in activities such as:

- Imaginative play
- Sports
- Drama
- Music
- Outdoor activities
- Den building
- Cooking
- Creative activities
- Listening to a child talk about their worries

A playworker's primary focus is to support and facilitate the play process. This involves knowing and understanding playwork theories and being able to implement them, including knowing when, how and if they should intervene.

Playworkers observe the children and young people in their setting to make sure that:

- Individual play needs are being met
- A range of opportunities is being provided
- Safety procedures are followed

Safety in a play setting does not mean children cannot take risks, as risk is often what makes play fun. It means the playworker has thought about protecting the children from harm, e.g. providing crash mats for a climbing game or, if invited, helping the children work out their own safety rules.

The children who attend playwork settings come from all walks of life and will all have different abilities and personalities.

Some disabled children using play settings need additional support, while others who have extra help at school might not need it in a play setting. A good playworker will be able to work well with all sorts of children.

Playworkers also:

  • Ensure that children have the equipment and resources they need to enable them to play.
  • Set up and put away any equipment and resources used.
  • Deal with any emergencies that arise.
  • Talk to parents, carers and sometimes to other professionals about the children.
  • Keep records of activities and participants.

Playwork is needed before or after school, at weekends and during school holidays.

There are some full-time jobs but most are part time. Some are seasonal, e.g. in the school holidays. Many playworkers work in more than one setting or job.

Playworkers may work in schools, youth clubs, adventure playgrounds, church halls, leisure and community centres, parks and playbuses.

Work can be indoors or outdoors, or a combination of both.

This is quite active work and can be physically demanding. It can involve lifting, bending and carrying, and maybe running or dancing.

There may be travel between various locations.

Salaries start between around £11,000 and £12,500 a year for a full-time playworker with no experience. Experienced and qualified playworkers may earn between £17,000 and £22,000. Senior managers may earn £35,000 or more.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Demand for playworkers is high and set to increase due to government initiatives and the growth of provision. Employers include:

- Local authorities
- Voluntary, community-based and charitable organisations
- Private companies
- Hospitals and health services
- Play and children's centres

Vacancies are advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, in the local and national press, by individual schools and colleges, and in specialist publications, such as Nursery World, PlayToday and Children and Young People Now. They may also be advertised on and the SkillsActive website.

All playworkers are expected to undergo aCriminal Records Bureau (CRB)check and register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). Often the employer will pay for this.

Education and Training

Most vacancies ask for experience of working with children, either paid or voluntary, and will require qualifications with a practical element, rather than purely academic qualifications.

The most common way to qualify as a playworker is to gain nationally recognised vocational qualifications whilst working in a play setting such as a play scheme.

There are also a number of higher education courses relating to playwork, including degrees and certificates and diplomas of higher education. There is also a foundation degree in playwork.

Some higher education courses are offered part time and some can be completed by distance learning. Experienced playworkers may be able to obtain a place on a higher education course without the usual entry qualifications.

It may be possible to train through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most playworkers are trained on the job by their employers and are expected to work towards one of the many recognised qualifications.

The most common qualifications taken are:

- Award, Certificate or Diploma in playwork
- NVQ's at Levels 2 and 3 in playwork

There is also an NVQ Level 4 in playwork, which is suitable for playwork managers and playwork development officers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Playworkers should:

  • Be able to build good relationships with children and their parents and carers.
  • Be good at listening to and socialising with children.
  • Understand the play needs of children and young people.
  • Provide a stimulating but safe environment.
  • Be aware of health and safety issues.
  • Be able to work well as a member of a team.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be flexible and adaptable.
  • Have a sense of fun.
  • Be patient and tolerant.
  • Have a reasonable level of physical fitness.
  • Understand playwork principles.

Your Long Term Prospects

Qualified and experienced playworkers may progress to become play co-ordinators, supervisors or managers.

Alternatively, they may move into training, play development or play therapy. Some playworkers become consultants, trainers or development workers. Some become self-employed and set up their own after-school club or holiday childcare scheme.

There may also be opportunities to move into other kinds of work with children such as junior youth work, youth justice, play therapy or teaching.

Get Further Information

Children's Play Information Service,
National Children's Bureau,
8 Wakley Street, London EC1V 7QE
Tel: 020 7843 6003

Common Threads, Wessex House,
Upper Market Street, Eastleigh,
Hampshire SO50 9FD
Tel: 02380 629460

Play England, National Children's Bureau,
8 Wakley Street, London EC1V 7QE
Tel: 020 7843 6003

77-91 New Oxford Street,
London WC1A 1DG
Tel: 020 7632 2000

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