School fields 'train future champs'

An Olympic gold medallist has stepped into the row over school playing field sell-offs, saying the move will have a "negative" effect on the nation's children.

Speaking after education officials admitted there had been an increase in the number of pitches sold, cyclist Dani King said playing fields were crucial to foster children's talent.

The 21-year-old team pursuit medallist told the Mail on Sunday: "Playing fields are training venues for future Olympians. They can be used by runners to prepare for competitions during school time."

The Olympian continued: "Although playing fields didn't affect my cycling training, they played a part in helping to keep me fit and that definitely helped me to get where I am. It would be a shame if children today didn't have the same opportunities. Closing playing fields is going to have a negative effect on kids, it's sending the wrong message to them. They aren't doing enough exercise these days and that is only going to get worse if they don't have anywhere to do it."

Barton Peveril Sixth Form College in Hampshire, where Miss King took her A-levels, sold one-and-a-half acres of its land to a housing developer in 2003, four years before she started there, the newspaper reported.

The Government has admitted that it has approved a total of 31 school pitches, 10 more than the Department for Education previously admitted to signing off and one more than the figures that sparked an earlier statement of apology.

The department said the tally of 30 sell-offs related to information given to the media from the School Playing Fields Panel but the decision about the 31st school - Newquay Tretherras Academy - did not go before the experts because the school owned the freehold to its land.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has also overruled independent advice to approve sales of playing fields five times in the last 15 months.

The DfE said earlier this month that sales of 21 fields had been approved since 2010. The sales occurred despite a pledge in the coalition agreement which said the Government would "seek to protect school playing fields".

But figures obtained by the Daily Telegraph showed the number was far higher and the DfE issued a statement apologising. "We are sorry to say that the Secretary of State was provided with incorrect information about how many playing fields were disposed of since May 2010," a spokesman said. "The figures presented to the Secretary of State, and published by the department, related to applications received between May 2010 and June 2012. Those figures should have included requests received by the previous government and then approved by the coalition."