Stop current plans to redevelop the Avanti Park Early Years outdoor area until a meaningful consultation with parents/carers can be carried out

We are requesting Avanti to stop current plans to redevelop the Avanti Park Early Years outdoor area until a meaningful consultation with parents/carers can be carried out to address concerns about the overuse of artificial grass and tarmac and the negative impact of design flaws on the learning and play experience of the children.

The parents and carers of children at Avanti Park school who have signed this petition are concerned about the plans for the following reasons:

  1. The redevelopment plans will lead to 75% of the space being covered by artificial grass or tarmac which fundamentally goes against the commitments made by Avanti in the curriculum review / curriculum plan to foster a relationship between the children and the natural world (see below*)
  2. Artificial grass covering 50% of the outdoor area is not environmentally friendly and goes against Avanti Park’s own curriculum ‘Nature and the Environment’ learning domain (see below**). Frome Town Council has also launched a 'Plastic Free' initiative advocating the use of alternatives to plastic wherever possible. The Town Council also avoids the use of additional plastic in its green spaces which are managed to maximise the benefit to nature.
  3. The tarmac area (25% of the space) will be dominated by a “Thermoplastic Roadway” which goes against a focus on the natural world and is also potentially limiting to the idea of free play / imaginative play given its focus on one activity.
  4. There are also several other design/layout flaws:
    • The transitions between areas and the general demarcation of different play zones is poor, which arises (in part) due to the lack of diversity in materials (e.g. overuse of astroturf) and also due to the lack of meaningful areas of planting integrated into the overall layout.
    • Some of the play features are also not fully thought through. For example, the bridge area enclosed with timber limits visibility in/out of that area for children and teachers and may create a feeling of isolation, and the seating area running along the fence in the top area is too long and all in a row which is not good for social interaction.
    • The introduction of an area of thermoplastic and additional areas of tarmac in a part of the school with existing flood risk issues is also questionable and runs counter to current good practice in relation to sustainable urban drainage and the recommended use of permeable surfaces.
  5. This not only impacts the early years children but potentially sets a poor precedent for further developments of the outdoor space around the school site which are not aligned to the learning experience that parents and carers want for their children and the commitments made by Avanti.
  6. Undertaking the project during term time will be disruptive for the early years children during a year already filled with so many changes in the school and disruption due to Covid.

When a significant redevelopment is planned, consultation would give Avanti the opportunity to share plans and the challenges they are facing, and for parents/carers to understand the context, to give feedback on the plans, and to feel that their values and priorities for the school are heard. This is common practice within the wider community in Frome: the Frome Town Council actively engages with the community on redevelopment projects like this, and continually solicits ideas from the people who live here. There is a particularly strong local culture of protecting and developing natural landscapes and green spaces in the town.

Developing projects through consultation with parents/carers would potentially also allow the Avanti leadership to find solutions from within the Avanti Park community which is rich in expertise, enthusiasm and willingness to support the school with such projects.

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*The Curriculum Review and 2020/2021 Curriculum Plan included the following points on outdoor learning and connection to nature:

  • "The use of outdoor learning is a key aspect of the new curriculum intention which may include gardening, forest school, cooking, understanding the rhythm of nature." (Curriculum Review p.19, Recommendation 1.5, Avanti Board Response: accepted without amendment)
  • "We are investigating ‘Forest School Status’ or ‘City Farm status’ and we would hope that some of the learning can take place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a relationship between the learner and the natural world." (2020/2021 Curriculum Plan p.8)
  • "Build on the strengths of Steiner kindergarten practice so that every child has the best start to education. This should include opportunities for nurturing a sense of ‘feeling, doing and thinking’ – these could be described as experiential learning, activity, reflexivity and metacognition. Connection with the natural world is highly valued in all the schools’ communities; awareness of self in nature as key aspects of the curriculum." (Curriculum Review p.19, Recommendation 1.8, Avanti Board Response: Accept: We will recommend a series of visits to other schools, including Steiner schools, where the early years provision is deemed to be outstanding.)

**One of the nine domains of learning is 'Nature and the Environment' which included the following description in the curriculum review "awareness and respect of the natural world, building ethical responses to climate change...".

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