By Elliot Franks
Concerns were raised following a Freedom of Information request showing education secretary Michael Gove had approved 21 requests to sell playing fields out of 22 received since the general election, with one request still under consideration.
At that time, The Telegraph last week reported:
A DfE spokeswoman said the sale of sports fields would only be approved if the schools’ need could still be met.
She said that 14 fields belonged to schools that had closed, four were sites that became surplus when existing schools amalgamated and one was spare “marginal grassland” on a school site, whose sale was invested in a new library and sports changing facilities. The other two were leased to clubs or companies that put the sites to other sporting uses.
“We will only agree to the sale of school playing fields if the sports and curriculum needs of schools and their neighbouring schools can continue to be met,” she said.
“Sale proceeds must be used to improve sports or education facilities and any new sports facilities must be sustainable for at least 10 years.”
Fast forward to today, and, as the BBC reports:
The DfE, which admitted its error after the paper [The Daily Telegraph] highlighted the inaccuracy, said the government had tightened protections for existing playing fields and “most decisions” on disposals were taken by junior ministers after “careful consideration”.
“We are sorry to say that the secretary of state was provided with incorrect information about how many playing fields were disposed of since May 2010,” a DfE spokesman added.
The figures first given related to applications received between May 2010 and June 2012, he added. He said those figures should have included requests received by the previous government and then approved by the coalition – which took the total to 30.
He added: “Ministers have sought to ensure that proceeds go to improving sports facilities for young people overall.”
The information initially given by the DfE is out by more than a third, giving rise to demands the Information Commissioner takes action – if they can be so wrong about the correct figure on school playing fields, what else are they (by cock-up or conspiracy) misleading the public about?
• The fight to save school sport goes on 5 May 2012