Brooke opposes moving the goalposts on playing fields: Julia Hagedorn reports on dissent over plans to free schools from having to offer a minimum of recreation space

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Indy Politics
PLANS to erase minimum standards of recreational space in schools have been attacked within the Cabinet as an invitation to sell land to developers.

The National Playing Fields Association has also objected to the proposals. Its spokesman, Tony Brett Young, said: 'There must be a link between England's poor performance in cricket and football and the lack of playing fields.'

Earlier this year, in letters to seven Cabinet colleagues, John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, proposed that the School Premises Regulations should no longer apply as far as minimum standards for teaching and recreation space were concerned. He asked for colleagues' comments by 18 May.

In a letter to Mr Patten on 19 May, which was leaked yesterday, Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for National Heritage, warned him not to underestimate the 'flak' from the sports and playing fields lobby.

Mr Brooke said they would see it 'as a cost-saving device with potentially disastrous results for team games and the ability to deliver the PE requirements of the national curriculum'.

He feared that schools would sell their land for development, and warned that, without any standards laid down, it would be difficult to judge whether the school playing field space was adequate when considering a school's application to sell land.

Mr Young warned that the standards laid down were already minimal and were based on pupil figures at an all-time low. Pupil numbers are set to rise by 800,000 over the next 10 years. Nor do the standards take into account children under eight. There is no central register of playing fields, but the association estimates that 100 school sites in the greater London area are under threat.

The National Council for Physical Recreation has estimated from Government figures that the sale of school and other sports fields has raised more than pounds 100,000 for local councils each day for the last two years.

Mr Brooke's objections were later brushed aside. In a letter written on 10 June to John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Patten said the regulations were 'inessential'. He continued: 'I do not think there is a real prospect that our proposed measures will lead to an upsurge in school land disposals, nor that the requirements of the national curriculum will be disregarded.'

Ann Taylor, Labour's education spokeswoman, said the leaked letters showed Mr Patten's 'contempt for the concerns of many parents, governors, teachers and pupils'.

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