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Bill will stop playing fields being sold off

The selling-off of school playing fields, without the Government's consent, is to be outlawed.

Introducing a new clause in the School Standards and Framework Bill, David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, told the Commons: "Every month over 40 school playing fields or parts of school playing fields are sold. In the past 20 years as many as 5,000 playing fields have been sold - an easy way to raise money.

"Physical education and sport play an important part in every child's development. The preservation of playing fields will ensure pupils get the opportunity to take part," he said.

The Government defeated a Tory amendment to make its policy on infant classes holding a maximum of 30 more flexible. Stephen Dorrell, shadow education secretary, said for some parents considerations such as religious ethos were more important.

Mr Dorrell quizzed Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, on his announcement to safeguard rural schools. Mr Byers said new technology could now provide small rural schools with a greater breadth of education.

The plans to introduce education action zones, abolish grant-maintained schools, and set up three new categories of schools - community, foundation and voluntary - were agreed.

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