Playing fields rule change anger after Olympics

By staff

The coalition's decision to abandon rules ensuring outdoor space per school pupil is coming under fire from campaigners.

Education secretary Michael Gove faces criticism for his department's move to scrap regulations introduced in New Labour's first term which require schools to set aside playing field space per child.

Officials have been told that many schools are struggling to find the specified amount of space for each pupil – up to 60 square yards per pupil for the largest secondary schools – and so have decided to abandon the measure.

New rules, which were put before parliament before the Olympic Games and will come into force in October, simply state that 'suitable' outdoor space is allocated for sport and play.

With the focus on Britain's sporting future after the end of the Olympics on Sunday they are now facing severe criticism.

"Not satisfied with getting rid of the target of pupils playing two hours of sport a week, he is now weakening the standards Labour introduced to protect school playing
fields," shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said.

"The government has already sold off 21 playing fields – parents want reassurances that these changes won't allow more to be sold off.

"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."

Figures published by the Sutton Trust have revealed that one-third of Britain's Olympic medal winners were educated at private schools, highlighting the relative weaknesses of comprehensive schooling.

The Sports and Recreation Alliance's chief executive Tim Lamb warned: "Without a minimum requirement, the danger is that short-term expediency could jeopardise the ability of schools to deliver sport for future generations."

Department for Education officials said that this was the first time that schools were required to have access to outdoor space for both physical education and "outdoor play", however.

A spokesperson said: "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."