School playing fields: 31 sales approved

Two children running across school field The revised figures come amid a debate about the legacy of the London Olympics

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A total of 31 plans to sell off school playing fields in England have been approved by the coalition government since it came to power.

The figures were confirmed by the Department for Education after it apologised for giving out inaccurate information earlier this month - when the number was put at 21.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the true number was 30.

But officials now say there was one more, in Cornwall.

The government has been under pressure on the issue of playing fields since the Olympics, as sportspeople, politicians and others have been talking of the need to secure the legacy of the 2012 games by making sure there are facilities and opportunities to create the next generation of sporting heroes.

Last week a list was released of applications and the decisions taken, with officials saying in most cases, playing fields were being sold after schools had closed or been amalgamated with others.

On Friday 17 August, officials apologised for saying the total approved since May 2010 was 21, when it should have included nine more where applications had been made before the coalition came to power but approved afterwards.


The words "Olympic" and "legacy" hang from the lips of all those politicians who haven't yet, in mid-August, found a beach to head off to on holiday.

The London Olympic slogan "inspire a generation" is nothing if not weighty and the burden of how it is achieved inevitably poses questions for ministers.

So it is the Olympic context that makes this row over school playing fields in England a little embarrassing for the government.

The prime minister went on TV to defend the coalition's record on playing fields.

But, to make his case, he fielded statistics we now know to be duff.

That, we were told, was because of an administrative error by civil servants.

Attention has also been drawn to five cases where playing fields were sold off against the will of an independent panel that advises on closures.

Of course, panels advise. Ministers decide.

But the Department for Education's reading, writing and arithmetic when it came to that definitive number of playing field sell offs means the whole issue still rumbles on.

Later, it said there was a 31st case - at Newquay Tretherras Academy in Cornwall - which had not needed to go through a panel which advises ministers on whether to approve sales of playing fields because the school owned the freehold of the land.

There is a local campaign against the sale of land from the school to Tesco. Local businessman David Nickels, told BBC News: "Once the land is concreted, it's gone forever.

"I have three daughters at the school and they have been asked to come up with ideas of how to spend the money from the sale of school facilities.

"However, there has been no consultation with the public and even MPs and the local council are against it. We are feeling very disheartened."

The school governors say the funds raised by the sale will help to rebuild the school and make it fit for the 21st century - and that there will be a full consultation in the autumn. It became an academy in April 2011.


The Telegraph said ministers had overruled advisers on the playing fields panel five times in the past 15 months and approved sales.

The government has confirmed the schools were Woodhouse Middle School in Staffordshire, Clarborough Primary School in Nottinghamshire, Elliott School in Wandsworth, London, Ingleton Middle School in North Yorkshire and Netley Primary School in Camden, London.

Staffordshire County Council says the land sold at Woodhouse Middle School was on a slope, was not used for school sport and that the school still has big playing fields.

The land is being sold to the town council and will be used as a cemetery, officials say.

Another of the cases involves Ingleton Middle School and North Yorkshire County Council says that school has closed.

There is a campaign to stop the selling of land at Elliott School in Wandsworth to pay for renovations which were originally planned under the cancelled Building Schools for the Future scheme.

Campaigners say six tennis courts, a football pitch and the main playground will go in a deal with housing developers.

Wandsworth Council says it will cost up to £30 million to bring the school up to an acceptable standard and that the school's sports facilities will be enhanced under the plans.

In the case of Netley in Camden, the government said it approved the application after the leader of the council made an appeal for it to do so. Proceeds from the sale would be used to improve the school's facilities and develop a nearby unit for vulnerable children.

Start Quote

Michael Gove must now come clean and explain what appears to be a secret programme to sell off school playing fields”

End Quote Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "Decisions to dispose of playing fields are hard. In each and every case we have one question in mind - what is best for pupils' education and their wider school life? That is all that matters.

"Sometimes that means making decisions that some will disagree with but we stand by those decisions."

Labour claims an estimated 10,000 playing fields were disposed of between 1979 and 1997 when the Conservatives were in power, but according to the BBC's More or Less programme, "no one really knows the true figure because nobody counted".

Programme presenter Tim Harford says until five years ago, the estimate was that 5,000 playing fields had been sold in that time. He added that 3,000 schools had closed between 1979 and 1997 so some playing fields would have been sold because of that.

Some 213 playing fields were approved for sale between 1999 and April 2010 under Labour, DfE figures show.

'Come clean'

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said Mr Gove appeared to have "failed to disclose at least another 10 school playing field sell-offs" which was "misleading and incompetent at the very least".

"Michael Gove must now come clean and explain what appears to be a secret programme to sell off school playing fields," he added.

He has written to the most senior civil servant in the DfE, Chris Wormald, asking him to "release all submissions and correspondence regarding these disposals".

Earlier this week, critics warned that new rules on outdoor space for pupils in England to do PE would make it easier for secondary schools to sell playing fields.

Schools previously had to provide pitches ranging from 5,000 sq m to 54,000 sq m, depending on the number of pupils, but must now provide only "suitable outdoor space".

The DfE said its "extremely strict rules" on playing fields were still in place.

Officials said sales had only been approved "if the school has closed, has merged or if equal or better facilities are being put in their place".

Schools where approval has been grantedfor applications made after May 2010 - details as released by the government on 8 August 2012

School Local authority

Beaver Green School


Heywood School


High View School


Estover Primary School


Estover Comm College


Woodhouse School


Saltersgill Special School


Dingleside School


The Winchcombe School

West Berkshire

Kingsbury School


Lord Lawson of Beamish School


Dunningford School


Clarborough School


Highfield School


Low Bentham School

North Yorkshire

Langcliffe School

North Yorkshire

Pear Tree School


Nursery Fields School


Ingleton Middle School

North Yorkshire

St Peter’s School, LA.


Gorsthills School

Cheshire West and Chester

Michael Drayton School in Hampshire is still under consideration.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    "can't see why the government would want to cook the books ...Not much difference between 21 and 30"

    No, it's not like the actual figure is nearly 50% worse than they said, is it?

    Oh, hang on......

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Just who are these civil servants working for .

    Us , the gov , the greater good .

    No just the labour party .

    We still pay their wages . And if they are sacked for stitching the gov up . I bet their union will raise merry hell .

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Any chance of Cameron having his photo taken handing over a cheque to a School which is losing it's playing field ? or will he bask in the supposed reflected Olympic glory at a number 10 photo shoot - guess which.

  • Comment number 87.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Someone's for the high jump, you can count on that.

  • Comment number 85.

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

  • Comment number 84.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    1997-2010 - Labour sold off exactly 200 school playing fields. Average - 15.4/year.

    May 2010-Jul 2012 - The Coalition have sold 31 school playing fields. Average - 14.7/year.

    In both cases (Labour & Coalition) they have largely been selling playing fields of schools that have closed because of amalgamation etc.

    The figure of 10,000 for 1979-1990 is pure fiction being regurgitated as fact.

  • Comment number 82.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    As big a scandal is selling off council-owned land in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They are supposed to be protected but large areas have now been sold off and built on.

    The common sense solution is to bring back into use empty flats over shops, Ministry of Defence unused land, force developers to develop land with current planning permission, etc then we wouldn't need orher land.

  • Comment number 80.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    one has to except the apology even they cannot be so stupid as to assume they could get away with being economical with the truth on this point.maybe the games may force their hand on the sell,sell,sell,ideology,you never know the games may do some good outside london too.speaking of london do the tory posters really believe boris is capable of party leadership?

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Can't see how 21 is virtually nothing but 30 is a huge problem. I bet the team responsible for advising the Secretary of State are having a rough morning. What makes me laugh is that some are claiming here that governments miss-using stats to demonstrate their current policy success is a new thing that was invented in 2010. Hilarious how naive people can be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.


    Eddy, unless you have a child in a school having its playing field sold you'd never know. That's what the government rely on, that it can be done under the radar without any major public opposition. It's for the media to shine a light on things and bring them to the publics attention whether it be rail operator contracts or selling school playing fields!

  • Comment number 76.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Ministers had overruled advisers to approve sales five times in the last 15 months.

    Why on earth would you hire advisers only to overrule them when the advise they give isn`t what you want to hear? My advise to this government is to hire only "yes" men to advise them, that way advise given will never be politically wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    shh count to ten and wait - are yes we are waiting for the 2 EDs to come running into the fray - Millibandwagonjumper and balls. No noise they must be on holiday. This is about as interesting as the Annual A level reading of results in front of the TV cameras by those guaranteed to have got A*s. I went to a school that had no playing fields, a private school, we still did sport on local ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Why is everyone continuously saying "The government" has sold off playing fields? Surely it's the schools and/or LEAs that are selling them?
    Yes, the government could block the sales, but they aren't forcibly selling off random playing fields. The finger should be pointed at the schools/LEAs in the first instance - after all, everyone says that they know their needs better than central govt....

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I think this has been based on very incomplete information.

    What clases as a playing field? Are we talking about all of a schools playing fields - or just a portion of the them?
    Are we actually just saying that 30 bits of land have been sold off?

    Surely a better measure would be area - how many m2 of playing field have they sold?

    How many m2 of playing field are there in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    No London schools listed - presumably most of theirs' were sold off years ago.

    Never mind, I'm sure a bit of creative 'rebranding' will solve the problem while politicians bandwagon on the Olympic Legacy, which seems reserved for those in private education.


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