Without greater provision and resources, state schools will struggle to close the gold gap

Without greater resources, opportunities and investment, the gold gap between state and private schools will continue to grow, writes Shamik Das.

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Sports secretary Jeremy Hunt today conceded school sport provision is “patchy”, in response to BOA chair (and former Tory sports minister) Lord Moynihan’s weekend call for a “step change” in sports policy in a bid to boost the Olympic success rate of state school-educated athletes.

At the Games, much has been made of the disproportionate number of golds won by privately-educated sportsmen compared to their state-educated colleagues – not that it should come as too great a surprise. The 7% educated thus not only have more and better resources, they are also given more opportunities to try their hand at a greater number of sports.

As the graph below shows, whereas in most private schools you would have the chance to experience almost all sports, the majority of state schools do not offer anywhere near the full panoply of Olympic sports:

The gap is illustrated most starkly with a glance at the (private) school attended by the prime minister and Mayor of London; here’s the Guardian’s David Conn two years ago, at the time the government unveiled its plans to cut (state) school sport:

“On the day of the spending review last month, Michael Gove, the education secretary, announced he was scrapping the plan to improve sport in schools.

“The schools, of course, are not private, like those attended by Gove (Robert Gordon’s), culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (Charterhouse), sports minister Hugh Robertson (King’s, Canterbury) – or the prime minister, David Cameron, whose alma mater, Eton, offers 12 squash courts, 20 tennis courts, an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, four cricket fields, a nine-hole golf course, and rowing on the lake that will host the 2012 Olympics.”

As former England Test batsman Ed Smith pointed out in The Times, the gap has grown steadily over recent Olympiads, and is set to get worse unless the current government heed Lord Moynihan’s advice, reverse the cuts, invest in the future and truly inspire a generation:

“There is obviously a risk that Gove’s approach will lead to a greater divergence of sporting experience in schools. The real beneficiaries of the decline of state school sport were the independent schools. The gap between the sporting haves and have-nots has undeniably widened.

“Top independent schools have spent massively on sports facilities. Even as a former professional cricketer, I’m dazzled – perhaps shocked – by their luxurious swimming pools and perfectly mown outfields. Some schools resemble five-star golf resorts. Many private schools have pitches fit for Olympians…

“The proportion of British Olympic medallists who are privately educated has grown steadily over the past three Olympics to about 45 per cent. The trend is the same in rugby and cricket: more private-school England players, fewer state-school ones.

“If we could map social mobility within professional sport, it would show a clear downward trajectory. You would expect sport to be a model of meritocracy. It isn’t.”


See also:

Citius, Altius, Fortius… It’s Games Time! 27 Jul 2012

Will the Tories follow up their praise for Wiggo with investment in cycling? 25 Jul 2012

The two faces of the Tories on sport: Embracing the Games while closing swimming pools 18 May 2012

The fight to save school sport goes on 5 May 2012

Sports minister: School sport “nothing to do with me… but the School Games are” 15 Dec 2011


Though some commentators, like the Telegraph’s Brendan O’Neill and The Sun’s Toby Young posit that it’s more to do with a perceived anti-sport, anti-competitive ethos in state schools, as important as a positive, winning attitude is, without the resources, opportunities and investment, the gold gap will continue to grow.


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