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Ministers eye ‘spot checks’ to monitor playing field sales

Government “spot checks” on deals to sell school playing fields could be introduced in a bid to tighten up its monitoring of academy trust land sales. 

The measure is being considered by officials as they weigh up how best to check if conditions set by the Department for Education for land disposals have been met. 

As part of this, they are also assessing whether to contact leaders directly to ensure they have observed the terms of their sales. 

Damian Hinds

In response to a written parliamentary question last month, schools minister Damian Hinds said: “[We are] considering measures to monitor compliance of conditions by academy trusts and other responsible bodies. 

“Measures under consideration include carrying out spot checks on cases, contacting academy trusts directly for confirmation that the conditions have been met and asking trusts to notify the department once they have been met.”

Before a deal to sell playing fields can go through, education secretary Gillian Keegan must give it the green light. Her consent will usually be subject to a condition stating that the capital receipt should be reinvested to improve sports provision at the affected school or local primaries and secondaries, Hinds said. 

15 deals for playing fields struck in 2023

The department also requires trust accounting officers to sign and return a letter confirming that they will comply with all terms of consent. Failure to do so could be a breach of the trust’s funding agreement.

Officials do not check if the terms have been met in any other way. 

The DfE stressed that the changes are being looked at “as officials consider it is good practice to monitor compliance of conditions, rather than in response to a known issue with non-compliance”. 

Prior to any new measures being implemented, the department “will need to establish the most effective practice for monitoring and recording compliance”, it added.

The new measures to monitor compliance will be in addition to the requirement to sign and return the acknowledgement letter. 

Fifteen agreements were struck last year to dispose of playing field land. In November, Lancashire County Council was given the go-ahead to sell Glenburn Sports College to make way for housing. The entire receipt will be spent on capital projects to address condition issues in other local schools. 

Analysis shows that 285 playing field sales have been signed off under the Conservatives since 2010.

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