Gove 'made school deal with council'

The playing fields controversy has taken a new twist in south London

Campaigners called for a parliamentary inquiry yesterday into allegations that Michael Gove overruled advice not to sell off a school's playing fields in return for the local Tory council funding a controversial free school in the same borough.

An independent panel last month rejected an attempt to sell off tennis courts and other sporting facilities at the Elliott School in Putney, south-west London, following an outcry from local campaigners. But days later the Education Secretary overruled the decision, paving the way for the school to be turned into an academy and the playing fields to be turned into housing.

The GMB union, which represents school support staff, accused Mr Gove and Tory-run Wandsworth council of a "backroom stitch-up" yesterday, alleging that Mr Gove had overturned the playing fields decision at Elliott as a "quid pro quo" for Wandsworth funding a free school in nearby Battersea.

Last year, the council bought up defunct hospital land in Battersea for £13m to be converted into a free school, which will open next month as Bolingbroke Academy. Both Elliott Academy and Bolingbroke Academy are to be run by ARK Schools, a charity which has 11 academies across Britain and was founded by the millionaire financier Arpad Busson.

The GMB claimed the timing of development at both schools was suspicious. In May 2010, Elliott School was about to sign a £40m refurbishment contract under Labour's Building Schools for the Future project. But under the new coalition government, the money was axed in July 2010 by Mr Gove. In November 2010 the council and Government identified a pot of £40m to build free schools in Wandsworth borough. A year later, in November 2011, Wandsworth council announced that the only way to pay for refurbishment at Elliott School was to sell its playing fields, despite the £40m earmarked for new free schools.

On 12 July this year, the independent School Playing Fields Advisory Panel rejected plans to sell off the sporting facilities. But earlier this month, Mr Gove overruled the panel, giving the green light for the sale.

Elliott School has been at the heart of the playing fields row that erupted after David Cameron promised to protect school sport. On Friday, it emerged that the Government approved the sale of playing fields at 31 schools, despite earlier admitting to just 21. The Department for Education also confirmed reports that in five cases, independent school playing fields experts had been overruled by Mr Gove.

Paul Maloney, the regional secretary of the GMB union, said: "All the evidence points to a cynical backroom stitch-up between Gove and the Wandsworth Tories over funding the Bolingbroke free school in Battersea. It is essential that this is now investigated by either the Education Select Committee or the Public Accounts Committee.

"Parliament must investigate whether Gove agreed to allow the sale of the school playing fields in Putney as a quid pro quo for Wandsworth funding the purchase of land for the free school in Battersea."

The Labour education spokesman, Stephen Twigg, said: "Michael Gove needs to explain why he can find millions for a new free school in one part of Wandsworth but an existing school down the road is forced to sell off playing fields to fund its refurbishment."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Elliott wants to enhance its academic and sporting provision. Its sporting facilities are dilapidated and out of date. The Government approved the application. The sale will fund a new multi-use games area to host competitive sports fixtures such as football matches, which they cannot currently do. They will also replace their old gym with a state-of-the-art indoor facility with four sports courts."

Bolingbroke Academy has triggered controversy as Wandsworth borough has a surplus of secondary school places.

ARK declined to comment on the GMB's allegations.

A Wandsworth council spokesman said: "The Department for Education approved the sale of the surplus land because it is the only way to fund vital refurbishment work at the school so that children and young people in the area can have the modern education and learning facilities they deserve. There is no magic pot of money to pay for these works and, without them, the school faces an uncertain future."

Best foot forward?

Defending the Olympics legacy, Michael Gove says the Government is committed to school sport. We are told he enthusiastically watched the Olympics, including attending archery, athletics and the triathlon, and is a season-ticket holder at Queen's Park Rangers, where he goes with his son. He also watched Aberdeen FC when he visited his parents recently.

But watching sport isn't the same as doing it. Does the Education Secretary actually do any exercise himself? He has "sometimes cycled to work", says a source.

That's not exactly keeping up with the Brownlee brothers, is it?

News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer was final surviving member of seminal punk band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

SEN Teacher, Permanent Role in Ashford

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad urgently seeks a qualif...

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

**Science Teacher Urgently Required for September**

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Science Teacher Urgently ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice