The Olympics may be over, but the political row over school sports fields is set to rumble on into the autumn. Stephen Twigg today announced that Labour will force a vote on the matter when the Commons returns in September. His motion will demand that the government restore a minimum space requirement for outdoor space in schools.

It does take some chutzpah for Twigg to launch this attack, given Labour managed to approve the sale of 42 playing fields in just one year, which is twice the number sold off since the coalition came to power. The Education department insists that of the 21 that have been signed off for sale, 14 belonged to schools that closed, and four were surplus to requirements after existing schools merged. But Twigg is on the money here: riding on the crest of enthusiasm for sport. He said this afternoon:

‘Michael Gove is hopelessly out of touch on this issue. How can he think that the priority should be to weaken the standards on playing fields and outdoor space just a few days before the Olympics? We have already had the scrapping of the target of pupils doing a minimum 2 hours of PE per week, the decision the cut the school sport budget by 69 per cent and the abolishing of School Sports Partnerships. Many parents will be wondering how seriously the government are taking the legacy of inspiring the next generation.’

But the DfE argues Twigg is hopelessly out of touch on the detail of this story. A spokesperson said this evening that the government’s ‘extremely strict rules on playing fields will stay firmly in place’, and argued that safeguards had also been strengthened around building on playing fields. The new regulations that have sparked this row say this:

Outdoor space
10.—(1) Suitable outdoor space must be provided in order to enable—
(a) physical education to be provided to pupils in accordance with the school curriculum; and
(b) pupils to play outside.

These come into force in October 2012, and replace regulations stipulating that schools should provide a specified minimum space for team sports. Sources close to Gove maintain that this is a beefing up of the requirements on schools. They’ve got until the autumn to win this race with Labour.

Tags: Education, Michael Gove, Sport, Stephen Twigg, UK politics