Page last updated at 17:37 GMT, Thursday, 22 July 2010 18:37 UK

Academies Bill 'could reduce playing fields provision'

Plans to create hundreds of Swedish-style free schools in England could lead to pupils being denied access to outdoor sport and playing fields, Labour has claimed.

Shadow education minister Vernon Coaker accused ministers of changing design requirements and building regulations in order to see as many of the schools built as quickly as possible.

During resumed debate on the Academies Bill at committee stage on 22 July 2010, Mr Coaker said he feared any watering down of playing field regulations could be "very damaging" to pupils' education.

The government plans to get the bill onto the statute book before the summer recess, giving every school in England the chance to convert to an academy and giving parents new rights to create their own schools outside of local authority control.

Mr Coaker claimed that in a government review of the allocation of capital investment for schools, two of the five criteria were designed to encourage new schools.

He went on: "The capital review that is going on is saying that not only are the school premises regulations being reviewed, not only are we reviewing design requirements, but we are also looking at playing fields."

He asked ministers: "Do you envisage these free schools being set up anywhere with no access to playing fields, with no access to outdoor facilities, no access to sport?"

Mr Coaker proposed an amendment to the bill ensuring that parents and local education authorities would be consulted before capital money was used to build free schools, which he branded an "experiment".

He said: "If those people were consulted and told that a free school was going to be built, other parents in the area might ask where it was going to be. They might well then be told, 'Oh well, it's going to be in some disused building.'"

But Schools Minister Nick Gibb told MPs that the government was committed to competitive sports.

"New free schools will have to demonstrate that they can provide a broad and balanced curriculum and that pupils will have access to playing fields for those activities," he said.

MPs rejected the Labour amendment by 302 votes to 185, a government majority of 117.

Click here to watch part two of the debate.


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