"Team GB’s medal winners are still four times more likely to have been privately educated than the general population"by / August 25, 2016 / Leave a comment
Not only have the athletes of Team GB made Rio 2016 Britain’s most successful away Olympic Games for over a century, they’ve also challenged the traditional dominance of independent schools in elite sports.
Our analysis found that less than a third (32 per cent) of Team GB’s 130 medallists attended fee-paying schools, a four percentage point reduction from London 2012, when 36 per cent of Team GB’s winners were privately educated and Beijing in 2008, when nearly 40 per cent of medallists had been to independent schools.
60 per cent of Britain’s medallists this year—including stand-out stars like cyclist Laura Trott and gymnast Max Whitlock—were educated at comprehensive schools. Eight per cent—including Jack Laugher, gold-medal winning diver, and Joanna Roswell-Shand, gold-medal winning cyclist—are alumni of state grammar schools. Jason Kenny, who is now the most successful British Olympian ever after winning three cycling gold medals in Rio, was educated at a comprehensive school in Manchester.
The rise in state-educated medal winners can be largely attributed to the increased investment in sport and focus on nurturing young talent, through lottery funding and UK Sport. Perhaps a reflection of the commitment to British cycling in the past few years, 92 per cent of their medal winners were educated at either a comprehensive or a state grammar school.
But there are still some Olympic sports that remain the preserve of independent schools. Over half of Team GB’s medal winning rowers attended fee-paying schools, as did 50 per cent of the winning women’s hockey team. Despite the successes of comprehensive educated athletes across a whole host of sports, Team GB’s medal winners are still four times more likely to have been privately educated than the general population, of which seven per cent attended a fee-paying school.
This can be explained in part by the focus on sport and the greater resources available at many independent schools: their pupils are more likely to benefit from ample time set aside for sport, state-of-the-art facilities and highly qualified coaches.
Last year the Youth Sport Trust questioned the government’s commitment to an Olympic legacy after finding that the average number of minutes of PE offered to children in England had dropped well below two hours per week.
The ending of funding for school sports partnerships in 2010, which engaged every school and doubled participation in competitive sports, may have taken its toll. Only half of schools are now engaged in such partnerships, according to the Trust. We need such links to be rebuilt.
Children from better-off homes are also more likely to have parents who are able to pay for the training and equipment that allows a budding sporting talent to reach its full potential too.
While of course we should celebrate the successes of all our British medal winners, we must also build on their triumphs and make sure that talented youngsters from all backgrounds have the same opportunities to become world-class athletes. How many more medals might Team GB win if state-educated pupils had similar opportunities to their privately educated peers?
Yes, the government should invest in better facilities for state schools, but it should also dedicate funding to foster stronger partnerships between the independent and state sectors so that any youngster with talent can use the world-class facilities that many independent schools offer. Adam Peaty, Britain’s first gold medallist in the pool for 28 years, was educated at a comprehensive school but trained at the facilities at Repton school.
We also need to ensure that we instil high aspirations in all our children so that they fulfil their academic, artistic or sporting potential. Too often we allow pupils to adopt a negative mentality that limits their development.
Sport isn’t just about elite competitions. As well as developing elite athletes, there also needs to be a renewed focus on sport for all. All young people must have access to PE lessons in school, not only for the health benefits that physical exercise brings, but also for the skills like team work and resilience it helps to instil.
Doing so might just mean we have even more Olympians in the next generation of sporting talent.