A change to the rules on the amount of outdoor space schools must have available for pupils has sparked the latest outcry in the ongoing debate between politicians over the London Olympics legacy.

Critics are warning that new rules on outdoor space will make it easier for schools to sell off playing fields, while the Department of Education have insisted that the rule change won't affect sports fields.

Secondary schools in England previously had to provide pitches ranging from 5,000 sq m to 54,000 sq m, depending on the number of pupils but this has now been changed to say "schools must provide suitable outdoor space for pupils".

A DfE spokesman said: "These regulations set out for the first time that all schools must have access to suitable outdoor space for both formal PE lessons and for outdoor play.

"By removing pages and pages of bureaucratic restrictions we will make it easier and cheaper to provide the extra school places that this country needs so urgently.

"Our extremely strict rules on playing fields will stay firmly in place. This government has only approved sales if the school has closed, has merged or if equal or better facilities are being put in their place."

However, shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said Mr Gove was "weakening the standards Labour introduced to protect school playing fields".

His party have said they will call a vote on the issue when MPs return to Parliament in September as the government failed to consult on the regulations laid in Parliament last month and subsequently seized upon by Labour in light of the 'legacy debate'.

An estimated 10,000 playing fields were disposed of between 1979 and 1997 when the Conservatives were in power.

The government was also criticised earlier this for the sale of 21 school sports fields in the past two years but the DfE has pointed out that 14 of the fields were at schools that had closed, four were sites that became surplus when existing schools amalgamated and one was surplus marginal grassland on the school site, with the proceeds invested back into the library and sports changing facilities.

Posted 15/08/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com