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 249.

    Go play on those toxic sites and built up areas. Don't you know that green areas are for the priveliged only!

    Know your place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    With regards to # Twickenham that is absolutely right. Competition still thrives in schools. It was the PE lesson during which two selected teams played a match while all the other pupils watched and did nothing else that was rightly condemned. There is now a Government approved PE National Curriculum to be followed. Please do not blame teachers for following it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    243 billy,at last some one who thinks like me, i really dont know what the answer is for our country but the constant back stabbing and bickering isnt helping at all, as i see it the corruption will cont which ever party gets power,personally i have no favour with lab or con all charlatans in my eyes and do nothing for the common man, saddens me to read as much bitterness as i do on the hys

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Re 212 So the problem is that school governors sell of land and trouser the cash is it? And that's the real endemic problem is it?
    It's a long time since I have read such a pig-ignorant, prejudiced, ill-informed load of utter drivel.
    The odd rotten apple does not mean that vast numbers of volunteer, unpaid, dedicated, school governors deserve your disgusting insinuation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Days after the hoohaa and hysterics of Flashmans Olympics made possible by Labour the clown factory is trying to make a nice little earner for their pals in the real estate industry, why on earth would you want to exercise children when 1.2 million school leavers are unemployed in truth with no future, the UK is sliding further down the pan by the day it's only attraction seems to be immigration!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.


    "...and this is bad?"

    No that is luck and geography and a wee bit of privilege to be so gifted.
    But of course the wilfully dogmatic blind do not have to consider lesser schools with no such luck and geography.
    It has nothing to do with expediency or sense it is a attempt to allow more free schooling to gain the criterion for opening a school.
    Dumbing down the requirements is all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    227. whatisgoingon

    yawn,same old,same old labour attacks tory, tory attacks labour, why cant we reach common ground for once, would be nice to actually read constructive comments,
    Agree ref the squabbling Nulab and Tories were /are in the pockets of the banks and Murdoch - the tories particularly so.
    We are "flatlining" - difficult to be constructive..

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    This government is truly Orwellian in its ability to believe two conflicting ideas at once.
    Invest in youth sports and the Olympic legacy and at the same time allow youth sports facilities to be reduced.
    Don't the Ministry of Plenty and Ministry of Truth do a wonderful job together?

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Has anyone asked the school kids what they think about all this ? Or the teachers ?

    Judging by comment 232.Jill Elson, it CAN be done if people use their brains and think of a workable & creative solution to the problem.

  • Comment number 240.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    The breaking news about state schools not being required to provide a definite size of playing field is typical of politicians saying one thing about the provision of educational facilities while they have in fact no intention of providing those facilities until "the ecomony improves". Is Eton or Harrow in danger of selling off their playing fields for housing or for industrial development?

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    The Government shouldn't be giving millions of pounds of funding to the 'Elite' potential medal-winners that could be given to keep community sports centres, children's play groups open for the masses.
    And everyone cheers them while they do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    So much ill-informed class warfare c**p!

    I live 8 miles from one of the best independent schools for sports in the whole country. Its facilities are breathtaking and, importantly, were built without a penny of public money!

    The facilities are also open to local sports clubs and other schools to use at nominal or zero is the case with many independent schools.

    ...and this is bad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    216. ghallid
    Here is a crazy idea.....all breeders stop complaining about exercise provision for your children from the state.
    You didn't go to school, use school playing fields or at least have the opportunity to do so. The playing fields are ours, the non interventionist 'small' government is selling them off.
    Your parents probably refunded child allowance or gave it to charity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    This is to allow more free schools to apply for a license to dumb down education.
    Along with being able to employ 'teachers' who have absolutely no qualifications in education.

    Education has been sold down the river to the highest bidder or closest crony just so government can say "nuthin' to do with me squire"
    It is also a nod and wink to Grove sycophants that want more religion in school.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    #223 Might I suggest what happened at my old school happened elsewhere too. It sold off playing fields at least 3 times (it started off with an excess of green space which was too sloped to play on but also sold a good rugby pitch) then the whole school shut & was relocated to a under-used college campus. In effect 1 school sold playing fields 4 times. (under both Major & Blair BTW)

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    225 Peter sum

    Bearing on mind the current lot inherited a record defecit , criminally debased currency soaring unemployment , broken banks etc . It is pretty damn stable.

    Besides my point was more that certain people would be prepared to cause economic misery to give labour power . Instead of making the most of what we currently have .

    241 Dan Dover

    you provided nothing , just more spin .

  • 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 231.


    "Never let the truth get in the way of some good mud slinging."

    Evidently that's your motto. Want to tell us where you get your '4 fields closed under Labour for every 1 under the conservatives' claim from? My numbers could well be wrong, but at least I provide a source (or 'hole' as you prefer to call it). And I have no party bias, only a bias towards fact.

  • 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.


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