The Department for Education has recently updated its guidance on the regulations that apply to schools and academies that wish to dispose of or change the use of playing field and school land.
As a general rule all schools and academies (which include free schools, studio schools, university technical colleges etc) need to obtain consent from the Secretary of State for Education before disposing or changing the use of playing field and other school land. There are some limited exceptions when consent does not need to be given and these circumstances are covered by general consents that have been granted by the Secretary of State pursuant to her powers.
In respect of playing field land the Secretary of State has criteria for how much playing field land each school should have based on the number of pupils who attend or who are expected to attend over a five year period. If a proposed disposal is likely to leave the school or academy with playing fields that fall below the area guidelines, the Secretary of State is likely to refuse any application for consent.
In coming to a decision as to whether to grant consent the Secretary of State will consider the overall balance of benefit of the disposal against expected gains to pupils and existing community users. As part of the application the school will need to include a detailed assessment of how the proposal will affect the provision of the sports curriculum and how it will be delivered if consent to the disposal is granted. The school will also need to provide details of any other local primary or secondary schools who use the land and how their curriculum needs will be affected.
Who makes the application for consent will depend on who holds the land. In the case of academies where the academy trust holds the land under a long lease from a local authority, it will often be necessary for both the local authority and the academy trust to obtain consent to the transfer.
Many schools make their facilities available to community users and out-of-hours clubs. The school will need to show how the proposals would affect their activities and whether they can realistically be moved elsewhere.
If the Secretary of State gives her consent to a disposal she has discretion to direct how any disposal proceeds are used. This includes a power to direct that the proceeds are paid to the Secretary of State. The school will be expected to get best value for the land so all applications are likely to require the provision of a valuation report from the District Valuer together with a breakdown of how proceeds will be invested. The Secretary of State will expect that the first priority for reinvestment should be for sports facilities where these are needed by the school.