New rules on school playing space criticised

Children play on the Olympic rings at the rowing venue in Eton Dorney, near Windsor, England A debate is growing on sport in Britain's schools following the London Olympics

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Critics are warning that new rules on outdoor space for pupils in England to do PE will make it easier for schools to sell off playing fields.

Secondary schools in England previously had to provide pitches ranging from 5,000 sq m to 54,000 sq m, depending on the number of pupils.

But schools must now provide only "suitable outdoor space" for pupils.

The Department for Education insisted its "extremely strict rules" on playing fields were still in place.

Officials say the change in regulations relates to "outdoor space" - not playing fields.

The criteria for agreeing a sale of playing fields for development includes ensuring that there are enough remaining fields for local schools and communities and that sale proceeds are re-invested, preferably in outdoor sport facilities.

The news of the change in rules comes amid a debate about how best to build on the legacy of the London Olympics following the success of Team GB, who had their best medal haul since 1908.

Labour has said it will call a vote on the issue when MPs return to Parliament in September.

'Jeopardise future'

Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, an umbrella organisation for sports bodies, told the Guardian the change undermined future provision of sport.

Call it an Olympic legacy, but school sports policy is under intense scrutiny.

Without the Games there is every chance few would have noticed a change to school playing fields regulations.

The policy isn't new, but now it's front page news.

So too was the scrapping of a two-hour a week target for PE.

And it was no surprise Downing St let it be known the prime minister wanted competitive team sports to be compulsory in English primaries.

Right now sport matters to voters, and that hasn't escaped the attention of competitive politicians.

"Without a minimum requirement, the danger is that short-term expediency could jeopardise the ability of schools to deliver sport for future generations," he said.

"We're confident that the Education Funding Agency understands the need to require schools to retain a minimum playing field space because the previous requirements were one of the key tools for preventing the sale of land."

The government disputed Mr Lamb's claims.

The new regulations were laid in Parliament last month but have only just come to light.

The DfE said that in the next 12 months it would publish guidance with a formula setting out the minimum outside space schools would have to provide - although it had yet to consult on it.

'Firmly in place'

A spokesman said: "These regulations set out for the first time that all schools must have access to suitable outdoor space for both formal PE lessons and for outdoor play.

"By removing pages and pages of bureaucratic restrictions we will make it easier and cheaper to provide the extra school places that this country needs so urgently.

"Our extremely strict rules on playing fields will stay firmly in place. This government has only approved sales if the school has closed, has merged or if equal or better facilities are being put in their place.

"We will be consulting later this year on how the new guidelines should be implemented."

An estimated 10,000 playing fields were disposed of between 1979 and 1997 when the Conservatives were in power.

Figures from the DfE also show 213 playing fields were approved for sale between 1999 and April 2010, under the last Labour government.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said Mr Gove was "weakening the standards Labour introduced to protect school playing fields".

"Parents want reassurances that these changes won't allow more to be sold off," he said.

"If we are to ensure the Olympic legacy, the government must ensure that schools provide a decent amount of space for competitive sports and play."

He also pointed out that the government had scrapped a target for state schools to provide at least two hours of PE a week.

The government was also criticised earlier this month when it was revealed the education secretary had approved the sale of 21 school sports fields in the past two years.

But the DfE later said that 14 of the fields were at schools that had closed, four were sites that became surplus when existing schools amalgamated and one was surplus marginal grassland on the school site, with the proceeds invested in the school library and better sports changing facilities.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    Well done Jill Elson and your school! My son's school is also fortunate to have a flood-lit all-weather pitch and netball courts which are used by local football teams, hockey teams and netball teams in the evenings and which generate income for the school as well as being heavily used throughout the day by pupils. It's the way forward!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    I am a Governor of a secondary school with over 2500 students. It works in partnership with local sports clubs to use their facilities. This helps with their finances and applications for grant funding. We invested in Astro Turf that can be used more frequently and Fitness suites that many young people like. We have an indoor tennis centre on our campus in partnership with the local council.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    It doesn't matter which governments sold off what. They were all wrong. Our schools are meant to serve our children, not just today, but in ten years, twenty years etc. If we want to improve the health of our children we need to start somewhere and there's no better place than schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Isn't it wonderful that the Olympics have generated a resurgence of interest in sport? Off you go Johnny and make us proud. What's that .. there isn't anywhere left for you to train? Shame, still the politicos have had their moment of basking in reflected glory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    This must be the shortest Olympic legacy ever!


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