Dear Avaaz, You have me confused with your views on playing fields…

Dear Avaaz,

I’m stumped by the email you’ve been sending out promoting one of your petitions.

I know from your own corrections page that you seem to take care to get details right and to your credit acknowledge errors when you’ve got things wrong. The couple of Avaaz folk I have met have also been pretty good people from what I can tell.

So I’m willing to give you a fair bit of benefit of the doubt. But I am really struggling to see how you can justify the bit in your recent email which says, “Michael Gove is selling off our school sports fields to rich property developers at a staggering rate — leaving a generation of British kids with nowhere to play”. It stumps me.

First, because the number of playing fields being disposed of for one reason or another has massively fallen since May 2010. Take the total number disposed of 1999-May 2010 and divide by the number of months; do the same again for May 2010-current day and you discover the rate has halved.

OK, so perhaps this new, far far lower rate is “staggering” and the previous rate was “unbelievably staggering”?

But what actually makes up this “staggering” rate? This comes to my second point of puzzlement.

It’s that of the 21 playing field disposed of since May 2010, i.e. under Michael Gove, 14 were when schools had closed. Disposing of a playing field when there is longer a school to go with it and all the kids have gone off to other schools is hardly leaving kids with nowhere to play is it?

As for the other 7 playing fields we’re left with, there’s a pretty good explanation in each case, none of which sounds like it leaves any kid with nowhere to play (e.g. two schools, each with their own playing fields, amalgamate and don’t need the full extent of the two original sets of playing fields, or the ‘disposal’ that was actually a lease to a company that then redeveloped and improved it, keeping it as a playing field for school use). (See here for more.)

But even if I’m really generous and think you’ve got good reasons to knock back the explanations for all 7, let’s put this number in some context. There are 3,127 secondary schools in England. So even if all 7 of those disposals are ones you’ve got good reason to suspect, that is still just 7 compared to thousands of schools. How is that “leaving a generation of British kids with nowhere to play”?

And that’s without getting into the fact that this is only talk of how many playing fields have stopped being used without looking at how many new ones have also been created. Isn’t the net figure the one that really matters? After all how can you talk about whether or not kids have somewhere to play without looking at how many playing fields have been newly created too?

In other words, your claim seems to me to be exaggerated, inaccurate and deeply misleading, even with some generous assumptions along the way.

Now, I’m no expert in school playing field provision (just as I was no expert when it came to playing on school playing fields) so perhaps the evidence I’ve seen is all wrong and you’ve got some good research to back up the claims.

In which case, would you mind telling me what it is? I have egg ready to place on my face as required.


Yours etc.


Hat-tip: Thanks to Daisy Benson for pointing out the email to me.

3 responses to “Dear Avaaz, You have me confused with your views on playing fields…”

  1. This one is well off target Avaaz. But Mark could also have included the figures for the last Tory government, which I think were even worse.

  2. But can any one tell me why we are closing schools at all, when the school population is rising all the time? OK it's geographically patchy, but I bet some of the sales are of inner- city schools in boroughs like Haringey, which has a knack of closing schools (Stationers', Lady Somerset) , and then finding it needs to build more.

  3. This campaign made me sit up as well. My questions for Avaaz are: Is it democratic and accountable? – Who are its decision makers? – Who decides what to campaign on and when? – Who checks its facts and ensures that campaigns do not descend into simplistic mud-slinging? – How do we change its organisers if we do not like what they do? ("Never trust anything if you cannot see where it keeps its brain" – J.K. Rowling.)

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