Fears that schools may be able to open nursery classes and nursery units without adequate play areas were raised this week with the publication of new draft guidelines to replace the statutory regulations.
The current requirement that nursery provision should include an outdoor area of nine square metres per child is likely to be scrapped. The new guidelines merely mention the importance of access to an outdoor area, giving no recommendations for space per child.
According to Margaret Tulloch, executive secretary of the Campaign for State Education, the lack of guidance on play areas would allow nursery classes and units to be crammed into small spaces.
"This kind of guidance means you could stick a nursery unit in the corner of the playground," she says. "I can't imagine a local education authority going ahead on such a basis, but there might be grant-maintained schools that will."
The new guidance also reduces the recommended minimum space requirements in all but the smallest of primary schools. The 1991 regulations set out that pupils under 11 should each have a minimum space of between 1.8 square metres and 3.13 square metres, depending on the size of the school. The new guidelines suggest a minimum of 1.8 square metres for all primary pupils.
Both Labour and Liberal Democrats attacked the guidelines in a Commons debate this week claiming they would pave the way for larger classes.
The draft guidelines are due to go out to consultation next week.
They will replace the regulations from the beginning of the autumn term.