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School Playing Fields

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what estimate his Department has made of the change in the number of playing fields of an area of less than 0.4 hectares in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. (98207)

[holding answer 30 October 2006]: Prior to October 1998, there was no regulation of the sale of school playing fields at local authority controlled schools. If a local authority wanted to sell a school playing field there was nothing to stop it and it could spend the proceeds as it wished. Section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 was introduced in October 1998 to stop the indiscriminate sale of school playing fields. Local authorities and governing bodies of all maintained schools now need the Secretary of State’s consent before they can dispose of a playing field or any part of a playing field. Section 77 defines playing field as

“land in the open air which is provided for the purposes of physical education or recreation”.

All applications to dispose of school playing fields received since 16 July 2001 have been scrutinised by the independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel, which comprises representatives from the National Playing Fields Association, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, Learning through Landscapes, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Local Government Association. The Panel provides advice on the extent to which applications meet the published criteria.

There has never been a complete audit of existing school playing field provision, but data on school playing fields was requested from local authorities in 2001 and 2003. Unfortunately, the data was incomplete and of variable quality, and it was not possible to accurately assess the number and area of school playing fields.

The following table shows the number of applications to sell school playing fields larger than a 2,000m2 sports pitch that have been approved in each calendar year since 1998. A ‘sports pitch’ is an area of open grassed land which is equal to, or larger than, the Football Association’s recommended area of 2,000m2 for games played by under-10s, and which has a configuration making it suitable for sports, whether laid out as a sports pitch or not. Of the total of 174 approved applications, 78 were at closed schools. Of the approved 96 applications at operating schools, the proceeds of sale have been used to improve on-site sports facilities at 78 of these schools. In the other 18 cases the sale proceeds have been used to improve educational facilities.

Number

19981

7

1999

42

2000

31

2001

21

2002

24

2003

17

2004

14

2005

9

20062

9

1 October to December. 2 To date.