The inconvenient facts on school playing fields
The Guardian's mantra "facts are sacred" is not reflected in its deliberate misreporting and distortion of the playing fields issue into a daily two-minute hate against Michael Gove. Here are some inconvenient facts:
1. In 30 cases out of 35, just over 85%, the advice of the advisory committee was followed.
2. One other case was withdrawn. That leaves four.
3. Two of the remaining cases involved small primary schools.
Clarborough Primary School, according to its prospectus, is a small rural primary school with approximately 120 children on roll, aged between 3 and 11 years old. In September 2008 we were fortunate to move into beautiful purpose built accommodation set in wonderful leafy grounds.
Here it is:
The site of the former school is at the other end of the village, and would have nothing to offer the new school. There are no other schools in the vicinity that would obviously benefit either.
Ingleton Primary School is in the centre of this map, with the closed middle school adjacent to the North-West.
The school's prospectus notes that We enjoy plenty of space and lots of natural light indoors and outdoors we are blessed with extensive, attractive grounds. Ingleton will take just one class from the closed middle school, giving it just over 150 pupils. The remaining pupils will go to Settle College, which has less space, but is just over 10 miles away. It would be difficult to argue that retaining this site would have helped Settle College, and I have spent too much time escorting busloads of children to believe that this is a good idea. In both of these cases, the expert advice should be published.
4. That leaves two cases outstanding. Woodhouse Middle School was allowed to sell some land that was large enough to make a playing field, but had not been used for years. Here is the site:
There is no suggestion that Woodhouse Middle School is short of space, or that the land was being used as a playing field. The land sold was valued at £25000.
5. That leaves Elliott, which uses playing fields off the main school site, as most are in London. The proposed sale here is of land in mixed use, much of it on a slope. Save Elliott School has plans of the present and proposed site. This remains a contentious issue. The land is not a playing field - it is not a field at all. But it but does have tarmac areas and tennis courts that are of clear recreational value. Where are the children to go at playtime if these plans are approved? Final approval may not have been granted, but before it is, all of the issues should be fully discussed, and expert advice published.
In fact, publishing expert advice may be the best way to avoid hysterical reactions in the future. Michael Gove is right to say that school playing fields now enjoy better protection than ever before, but all aspects of each case need to be transparent, so that they are not left to the accumulated evidence of Freedom of Information Disclosures, which in this case have not provided a clear picture at all.