Letters Extra : Playing the field
Since the introduction of legislation in October 1998 to control the sale of school playing fields, local authorities and schools in England need permission from the Secretary of State for Education and Skills before they can sell off any school playing fields. The same legislation also protects school playgrounds and recreation areas as well as whole sports fields.
The Secretary of State set up the independent advisory panel to help him assess applications for his consent to sell or change the use of school playing fields. The panel, brings together leading sports bodies including the National Playing Fields Association, the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the education organisation Learning through Landscapes as well as the National Association of Head Teachers and the Local Government Association.
The panel advises education ministers on whether applications meet the requirements of the Department's published criteria. It will only agree the criteria have been met if (i) the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools continue to be met, (ii) community usage of school playing fields is considered in any decision, and (iii) any money raised from the sale is re-invested in better school sports or education facilities, many of which can be shared with the school's local community.
The legislation has made local authorities think long and hard before they decide to sell any school playing fields and it has certainly stopped the indiscriminate sales that happened before 1997. They know there is no point submitting an application that doesn't meet the published criteria. The legislation, and criteria against which all applications are assessed, has ensured that only school sports pitches that are surplus to the needs of local schools and their communities are sold and all the money is ploughed back into providing better sports or educational facilities. It is a myth that any school has been allowed to sell off all of its playing fields since the legislation to stop it was introduced.
The point that seems to be missed by most commentators is that the number of applications to sell off school playing field land has declined from the acknowledged massive sell-off that happened prior to 1997. Some press articles have pointed out that few applications are rejected. That is not surprising because local authorities are not putting in pointless applications. Since the panel started its work in August 2001, we have seen the number of applications submitted each month fall to a trickle. nbsp;
J ohn Troake
School Playing Fields Advisory Panel