School playing fields sale confuses local councils
The Government was forced to apologise last night for issuing misleading figures about selling school playing fields.
Ministers have approved the sale of 30 school pitches – nine more than the Department for Education previously admitted to signing off, it was reported.
The department blamed officials for providing Education Secretary Michael Gove with incorrect information. It also emerged that Mr Gove has overruled independent advice to approve sales of playing fields five times in the last 15 months. Critics say the move goes against the supposed legacy of the Olympic Games, which have spurred many youngsters into sport.
Councils in the West Country yesterday refused to comment on whether they will be following controversial new rules set out by the Government, which have reduced the size of outdoor space schools have to provide for team games.
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New regulations laid out in Parliament last month say secondary schools in England only have to provide “suitable outdoor space” for Physical Education lessons and playtimes, dropping the requirement for pitch size to range from 5,000 sq metres to 54,000 sq metres, depending on the number of pupils.
The Department for Education said the new regulations will make it easier and cheaper to provide the extra places for pupils that the country needs.
But critics fear a reduction in the size of playing fields will put the Olympic legacy in jeopardy at a time when the country wants to build on the success of Team GB at London 2012.
A spokeswoman for Somerset County Council said they are expecting “no changes to provision” of playing fields, adding that they have had “insufficient time to consider the implications” for the schools under the council’s authority.
Meanwhile, Councillor Jackie Hall, cabinet member for education at Gloucestershire County Council, said: “I can see no reason to believe there is any risk of playing fields being sold off.
“This Government rightly has extremely strict rules against selling school playing fields – only giving permission very rarely and then only where schools have closed or merged, or to allow better sports provision.”
The new regulations for outdoor space have also led to confusion amongst many councils who are uncertain as to where the Government’s decision leaves them.
Nick Glass, in charge of schools strategic planning for Wiltshire Council, said: “It is early days to say what it means for us.
“There’s so much underneath this decision we will need to discuss the matter internally before we can comment.”
A spokesman for Bristol City Council said: “At the moment it is difficult for us to say what will happen to the playing fields in the city as many schools are academies, which do not answer to us.”