Whoops. It turns out that the number of school playing fields that the Education Secretary Michael Gove approved for sale between May 2010 and July this year was 30 rather than 21 as previously claimed. It turned out officials had not included those requested before May 2010 but approved after that date. So high fives all round to the Labour Party, NUT and GMB press offices for this embarrassing error.
The substance of the issue, as detailed by Matthew Barrett is unchanged though. The number of playing fields annually approved for sale is comparable to the last Labour Government – rather lower than the 19 approved by Ed Balls in 2007 as Children's Secretary. Of those that Mr Gove (or rather the Schools Minister, Lord Hill) has approved, the large majority are where the school has closed or amalgamated with another school.
In a tiny number of cases it is more complicated. For instance, this proposal from Elliott School in Wandsworth. They want to sell off some of their land. Is this an anti sport proposal? Some of the proceeds would go towards a new gym (the existing one has a roof that leaks.) The bit of land that is being sold may officially be a playing field but "due to the slope of the site, the current school does not have its own grass sports pitches. The school currently use off site playing fields and this would continue."
It sounds to me to be a reasonable proposal. If I was a parent or governor at the school I suspect I would probably be persuaded of the case. Similarly, I might well be persuaded of other cases. But my point is not that Mr Gove and Lord Hill made the right decision to allow these. It is that they shouldn't be making the decision. The decision should be with the school. The discipline on them should come from parents exercising choice. Schools that make good decisions should find that parents want to send their children there. Schools that make bad decisions and face a shortage of pupils should face closure.
The Olympics is likely to encourage parents to push for more competitive sport in school. More sports days. More competitions with other schools. If schools only have teachers who follow union instructions about not supervising sport outside school hours then they had better find some volunteers or recruit some non-union teachers. Otherwise they will find parents tending to look elsewhere, for schools which do provide extra curricula sport.
That is the way forward. For the individual school to take responsibility. The School Playing Fields Advisory Panel should be closed down. The Daily Telegraph should explain whether their Keep the Flame Alive campaign includes giving the state a veto over independent schools changing their arrangements for their sports facilities. Also Cllr David Simmonds and the Local Government Association should cease their anti localist campaign for these decisions to be made in Whitehall.