Recent reports suggest that the Renaissance of sport in England’s schools brought on by the success of the 2012 Olympic Games is already beginning to falter. It was announced this week that the legal requirements that govern how much outside space schools must provide for their pupils is apparently to be ended and replaced with non-binding regulation. Does this neutralise and destabilise the pledges recently made by David Cameron to boost and support competitive school sports development and build on the success of the games?
This process will surely weaken specific protection measures brought in under the previous Tony Blair Labour government. It has been cited that this could lead to losses of at least a 15% of playing field space and there has been a renewed call for “a firm commitment from the government to prioritise school sport and facilities” this was voiced by Fields in Trust, a charity backed by the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, as reported in the Daily Telegraph on 15 August 2012.
No doubt the awe-inspiring success of the games has rekindled support for energising competitive sports in schools and encouraging more people coming forward to support and promote the development of Britain’s young sporting talent in the wake of the most successful Olympics of modern times. Only this week Mr Cameron state said the ethos of British schools must change towards sport to show pupils that “winning and losing is an important part of growing up”.
Allocation of space for sports fields in schools is currently governed by standards set out in the Education (School Premises) Regulations1999. This is closely policed and controlled by government ministers, local Education Authority (LEA) and Sport England who receive copies of all the applications for building in juxtaposition to close to existing playing field. Ministers usually have to approve building on playing fields. However the consultation makes clear that permission would not need to be sought for “permanent classrooms or [to] install mobile classrooms on playing fields”.
The new requirement, which comes into force in October, will compel schools to provide only “suitable outdoor” space – rather than team playing fields – for PE lessons and to allow “pupils to play outside safely”. Schools would be able to “build an indoor leisure centre whether for use by the school, by the community or both” without ministerial consent, raising the prospect of increased building on playing fields. This now raises the obvious question of whether deregulation will open the doors for unrestrained building development on spaces usually reserved for sport and what impact this might have on the development of our young talent of the future.
Without the need to consult with the governing bodies that usually approve or reject such applications, is this a path that now suggests we are going in a totally different direction to the comments recently purported by Mr Cameron – you decide?