Playing fields sell-off goes on

Education Secretary Michael Gove has approved the sale of over 20 school playing fields since the coalition government took office, it has been revealed.

In total, 21 out of 22 requests have been given the go ahead by the Department for Education (DfE) in the last two years, with one more still under consideration. The sell-off comes despite a pledge by the coalition to protect school playing fields.

The new figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, are likely to fuel concerns about school sport. It comes the day after Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that school sports provision is still patchy.

Lord Moynihan, the head of the British Olympic Association (BOA), has called for a major increase in Government funding to build on the success of Team GB at the London Games.

Among the pitches approved for disposal is a 1.6 acre playing field at the Winchcombe School, a state primary in Newbury, Berkshire, which has been put up for sale with outline planning permission for housing, the Guardian reported. And a new school has been built on the site of playing fields at Woodhouse School in Staffordshire.

Some of the fields due to be sold off will still be used for sporting purposes, including Kingsbury High School in north London, which has plans to lease its pitches for five-a-side use. Others have been disposed of following school closures, the newspaper reported.

The move comes despite a promise by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the coalition agreement which says they will "support the creation of an annual Olympic-style schools sport event to encourage competitive sport in schools, and we will seek to protect school playing fields."

The DfE insisted that the sell-off of school playing fields will only be agreed if schools' sports needs can continue to be met.

It is understood that the previous Labour government approved the sell off of just over 200 playing fields over 13 years. And an estimated 10,000 were disposed of between 1979 and 1997.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "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."