Improving school playing surfaces

Well-managed playing fields will not only improve the quality of school pitches, but will also improve their usability as pupils enjoy playing on pitches without bumps and bare patches, says Colin Hoskins and Dan Prest from the Institute of Groundsmanship.

Regular planned maintenance is the key to well-managed pitches, and most of the tasks required are carried out on a fairly routine basis from one year to the next. Such forward planning is a key management skill which helps to identify and address issues well in advance of any adverse situation; effectively helping to prevent such occurrences. A maintenance plan is a forward planning tool which aims to predict the type of work that will be required in maintaining a given area, bearing in mind usage rates and weather conditions.

However, it is no good having a maintenance plan if there is no end goal. It’s all very well saying that the aim is to provide a fit-for-purpose playing surface, but what about trying to improve that surface year on year? How can that be done? Most likely you’ll need benchmarks.

Performance Quality Standards (PQS) provide a complete picture of a stated facility (such as a football pitch), with the surface, sub-surface and playing aspects all being clearly defined.

Grass root depth, overall grass coverage, soil type and even the visibility of the lines and ball bounce can be assimilated and measured (with most of the tests being simple enough to be carried out without laboratory-based equipment).
Attaching PQS results to a maintenance plan can give the school’s grounds team (or the contractor) something measurable to achieve through day-to-day maintenance activities. Indeed, the measures can also be used to check to see if money is being wasted on any particular task or product.

Looking good year on year
One of the main criteria within PQS is presentational quality – does the playing surface look good? Presentation is often a very striking aspect to users and other stakeholders, and benchmarks can be set to ensure that the pitch ‘looks’ good year on year. A well-presented playing surface may well be the difference between pupils wanting to use it or preferring another facility.

PQS is one of the key aspects of the £1.3 million Grounds and Natural Turf Improvement Programme (GaNTIP), an initiative designed to raise the standards of sports surfaces as well as the understanding of sports turf management practices among those who manage and maintain them.

Funded by the IOG, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), The Football Association (The FA), the Rugby Football League (RFL) and Sport England, and led by the Institute of Groundsmanship (IOG), the programme is headed by national manager Jason Booth, formerly head groundsman at Leeds Rugby.

He leads a team of turf care expert regional pitch advisors who provide support services, training and education to grassroots sites while also managing the development of pitch performance standards through reporting and advising on grounds improvements. “The GaNTIP team has made steady progress in raising the much-needed awareness of pitch maintenance and its importance to all sports – especially at grassroots level,” he says.

In addition to the RFL’s initial emphasis on Tier 3 level clubs, The FA has focused on raising awareness of pitch maintenance while also offering support to clubs that are going through asset transfer from local authorities that simply can no longer maintain facilities. Also, The FA has already provided significant investment to clubs with machinery being supplied to a number of sites, and this will continue with the help of GaNTIP.

Further information