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Derek Twigg: I shall speak to my hon. Friend outside later.

We are often asked why so few applications to dispose of school playing fields are rejected. The answer is that local authorities and schools pursue only those that they consider meet the tight rules that we have put in place. There is no point in their putting forward applications that they know do not meet the criteria. The main point is that the number of applications has declined, not that the number of applications rejected is low. We should not, therefore, read anything into the fact that few applications are rejected.

In conclusion, a great deal has been done, and continues to be done, to protect school playing fields. We are also investing heavily to support PE and school sport. Between 2003 and 2008, we will have invested more than £1.5 billion to boost PE and school sport. We are promoting a massive expansion of the specialist sports college and school sport partnerships programmes. We aim to have 400 sports colleges or
 
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academies with a sports focus by 2006—that is one in nine of our secondary schools. Clustered around each sports college we are establishing a network of school sport partnerships—families of schools that receive additional funding to enhance sports opportunities for all children. More than 50 per cent. of schools in England are already within the network of created partnerships.

More than 1,700 secondary co-ordinators and 10,300 primary and special school link teachers have been appointed and are in place within the partnerships. They are sharing best practice, organising competitions and activities, and building and strengthening subject leadership, particularly in the primary sector. By 2006, all maintained schools in England will be within a school sport partnership.

PE and sport have an important role to play in raising standards. Work undertaken by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has shown how placing PE and sport at the heart of a broad and balanced curriculum can improve attendance, behaviour and attainment. PE and school sport build self-esteem, teamwork and
 
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leadership skills. PE and sport are also important because they can help build an inclusive society, raise levels of participation in sport after pupils leave school and positively affect the health of the nation.

That is why PE is compulsory within the national curriculum at all key stages for all pupils, and that is why there is a statutory duty on education authorities to provide access to at least a minimum amount of team game playing fields, based on the type of school and the number of pupils. That is also why we put so much emphasis on protecting the playing fields that schools use and re-investing proceeds whenever possible into giving schools first-class sports facilities.

Our policies not only ensure that schools keep the playing fields they need to meet their own future needs, but the needs of their neighbouring schools. We will continue to work with our partners in the education, voluntary and local government sectors to keep our policies under review to ensure that all pupils have access to the best school sports facilities that schools and authorities can provide.

Question put and agreed to.




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