The timing of the recent announcement by UK Education Secretary Michael Gove that schools will no longer be required to set aside a minimum outdoor space dedicated to team sports could be considered ill-judged, coming just at the time when England was pondering its athletic destiny in the wake of the recent Summer Olympiad in London. Combined with regulation that does away with a two-hour-a-week sporting requirement in schools, the policy generated vehement opposition from people across the political spectrum. Now the Labour Party, possibly seeking to score political points off the hubbub, is calling for a Parliamentary vote to reverse Gove’s policy and restore the minimum outdoor space requirements to the nation’s schools.
Previously, sporting fields had to meet a specific size requirement, but the latest regulations require simply that the accommodations be “suitable” for teaching physical education and for allowing students to play outside during school breaks. Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said that he will take up the issue when Parliament reconvenes this fall.
Twigg has renewed his attack on the Conservative education secretary on Wednesday. He said: “How can [Gove] 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 two hours of PE per week, the decision to cut the school sport budget by 69% 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.”
The new rules governing outdoor space were brought up before schools minister Lord Hill and approved on July 19th — just a week before the Olympics kicked off. The regulations are set to go into effect this October. The previous regulations mandated that schools provide pitches between 5,000 square meters and 35,000 square meters, depending on the size of the school. Opponents of the change fear that this will serve as an excuse for financially strapped institutions to sell off their playing fields to raise money.
This is the second time this month that the Education Secretary’s actions regarding physical education have come under fire. Earlier, the Department of Education also removed the requirement that schools provide up to 120 minutes a week of physical education and sports. Michael Gove explained that the change in the rules is meant to provide head teachers with more flexibility in deciding what level of physical activity is appropriate for their students.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, vehemently disagreed with the change in rules, saying that relaxing these requirements would be counterproductive. On the contrary, Johnson called on schools to offer students two hours of physical education every day.