Education officials have tonight admitted the tally of school playing field sell-offs has increased again - just hours after being forced into an embarrassing apology for issuing misleading figures.
Ministers have 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 today's statement of apology.
The Department for Education 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 overruled independent advice to approve sales of playing fields five times in the last 15 months. The government has been forced to apologise for giving misleading figures about the sell-off.
Some cash strapped schools are willing to sell their pitches if it means they can use the funds for other sports activities. Political Correspondent Lucy Manning reports:
One of the schools that the Education Secretary allowed to sell off its playing field, overruling the advice from the independent panel of experts, was Elliot School in Wandsworth in south-west London.
Our political correspondent Lucy Manning has spoken to Ed Lattimore from the Save Elliot School Campaign.
He told her when it comes to selling off playing fields, the "priority" should be students and not finance.
We don't believe in selling off playing fields and I think if you look at what we do in London, we have very clear rules that you can't sell off green space, you can't sell off playing fields.
What you can do if you do need to expand a school - and there's huge pressure on school places - you can do that provided you increase the availability of playing fields, so you've got to have new provision of playing fields elsewhere.
– Boris Johnson, London Mayor
Playing fields are absolutely vital for the health and wellbeing of young Londoners. Many schools don't have enough, many parts of inner London simply don't have enough playing space, and it's vital that we conserve what we have.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the protection of school playing fields is "vital for the health and wellbeing" of young people.
Here is a list of the amount of school playing fields sold off by previous governments. According to The Daily Telegraph:
- The Conservative government between 1979 and 1997 sold off around 10,000 playing fields.
- The Labour government between 1997 and 2010 sold off 226 fields.
- Between May 18, 2010 and July 22, 2012, the coalition government received 35 applications to sell school playing fields - 30 were approved.
Labour set-up an independent panel in 1999 to slow down the sale of school playing fields.
David Simmonds, Tory chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, told the Daily Telegraph:
We are concerned that ministers seem to be increasingly disregarding the advice of the independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel.
We are also concerned that this is likely to become more of a problem in years to come as we see more and more schools taking on academy status and becoming exempt from the guidance that applies to other schools.
However, the sad reality is that some schools may feel selling their outside space is the only viable option open to them.
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg told ITV1's Daybreak it was a "shambles that the government didn't know how many playing fields had been sold off".
He added that it was "worrying" Education Secretary Michael Gove "ignored expert advice" and went ahead with selling five additional school fields.
Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg told ITV1's Daybreak "there was a massive reduction" in the amount of playing fields sold off when Labour were previously in government.
Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg has written to the Department for Education's most senior civil servant after reports that Michael Gove overruled independent advice not to allow the sale of playing fields five times since 2010.
An extract of that letter says:
In response to a Freedom of Information request on school playing fields dated 23 April 2012, and updated on 8 August the Department responded as follows: “the number of applications [for school playing field disposals] received since May 2010 is 22. Approval has been given for 19 applications and 3 are under consideration.”
An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found that the true number of disposals since May 2010 is as follows: 35 applications to sell school playing fields between 18 May 2010 and 22 July 2012, of which 30 were approved, 2 rejected, 1 withdrawn and 2 are outstanding.
I am deeply concerned by the fact that the Secretary of State has failed to disclose around a third of the playing field sell-offs that have been approved since the General Election.