This week The Guardian and others ran a story about how the current government was continuing with selling off school playing fields despite the promises to bring to an end the sorts of sales which took place under Labour.
However, the Department for Education has thoroughly taken apart the claim in a comprehensive response, pointing out that:
Of the 21 playing fields we approved for disposal 14 were schools that had closed, four were sites that became surplus when existing schools amalgamated. Of the other three:
- One was surplus marginal grassland on the school site. Proceeds of the sale were invested in the school library development and sports changing facilities.
- One was leased to a company to redevelop and improve a playing field (for the school’s use) that was subject to poor drainage and under used. Funding introduced all-weather playing surfaces comprising of four 5-a-side pitches, two 7-a-side pitches, a full sized football and hockey pitch and a six-court indoor tennis facility. The school also profited from private hire of facilities outside school hours.
- One was due to be leased to an Athletics Club to improve sporting provision for the Club and the school, although in this case the project did not go ahead.
We will only agree to the sale of school playing fields if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met. Sale proceeds must be used to improve sports or education facilities and any new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years.
Disposing of a playing field because the school which used it has closed is all rather different from the implication in headlines such as “sales despite pledge to protect pitches”.
(For the context, those 21 sales since May 2010 work out at a monthly rate half that of 1999-2010 under Labour.)
UPDATE: The Department of Education has now changed the 21 figure to 30, the extra 9 being ones where the application went in when Labour was in power but the decision was not made until the Coalition Government started.