21 Jun 2014

Do you need to be privileged to do well in sport?

A new report says white working-class children are failing at sport because they are not being encouraged enough in schools – but does class really matter when competing on the field?

Despite the vast majority of state comprehensive schools making “enormous strides” in recent years, the name is still tarnished, the Ofsted chief inspector suggested.

In a speech, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said he wanted to reclaim comprehensive education and competitiveness in sport, arguing that it is the only way to educate all youngsters to a decent standard.

It saddens me to see that, despite the success of many comprehensives, their reputation remains tarnished. Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael told the Festival of Education at Wellington College in Berkshire: “I am a passionate believer in local schools for all abilities. Indeed, until my current job, I had spent my entire professional life in inner-city comprehensives. So it saddens me to see that, despite the success of many comprehensives, their reputation remains tarnished.”

He added: “They can be seen in the toleration of poor behaviour, the disdain for competitive sports, the half-hearted pursuit of high academic standards and the meagre respect sometimes given to leadership. If we are to reclaim the comprehensive ideal, if more schools are to become good, we have to tackle these baleful legacies.”

‘Olympic medals’

Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust, told Channel 4 News: “The real challenge for public schools is the lack of funding. 93 per cent of children go to state schools so they need better infrastructure in order to improve talent.”

In stark contrast, more than a third of British medal winners in the 2012 London Olympics were from private schools, which educate 7 per cent of the school population, the Sutton Trust has shown. Team GB finish third in the 2012 Olympics medal table with 65 medals – 29 gold, 17 silver and 19 bronze.

The dominance of private schools was particularly evident in sports such as rowing where more than half of gold medallists were privately educated, with fewer than a third coming from state comprehensives and the rest from grammars.


On the opposite scale, only three players out of the England’s squad of 23 at the Brazil World Cup went to private school. Two players – Frank Lampard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who were educated privately also have fathers who played professional football. The majority of the team went to state comprehensives.

Broadcaster and writer John Anderson told Channel 4 News: “As a nation we are now obsessed in winning Olympic medals – but the British heart and soul is in football. More money needs to be spent on sports in the inner city.”

Football is deeply ant-intellectual. We have the tendency to talk about it in simple terms. Stefan Szymanski, University of Michigan

Stefan Szymanski, from the University of Michigan, added: “There’s no doubt that public schools have more resources in sport than public schools, but I don’t think class is the issue.

“Football is deeply anti-intellectual. We have the tendency to talk about it in simple terms. We need to raise the level to talk to about it in terms of art and poetry.”

Mr Szymanski added: “There is also a broader issue here. Our footballers don’t speak a second language and very few of them go and play abroad.”

Sports writer David Goldblatt, author of Futebol Nation: a Footballin History of Brazil, told Channel 4 News: “I belive public schools to be amongst the most important and powerful generators of social inequaity in Britain I cannot possibly think that them doing more of anything other than becoming part of the public sector is a good idea.

“It might however be a good idea if English football were to draw on players from a wider range of backgrounds, something that would require the FA and clubs to take a much closer interest in their wider education and post career life.”