Independent Schools' Gold Medal for National Service

Far from being 'wholly unacceptable', this is why independent schools exist, and we should be thankful for it.

At Beijing four years ago, half of Team GB's medallists were privately educated. Now, with such an intense focus on the British team in London, it hasn't escaped peoples' notice that many of our proud, brave Olympic medallists are also well spoken and very probably privately educated.

The situation is described by Lord Moynahan, the Chairman of the British Olympic Association no less, as 'wholly unacceptable'. If only 7% of our children receive a private education, only 7% of our medallists should be privately educated.

After Lawrence Clarke had produced the run of his life to finish fourth in the 110m hurdles, the BBC's commentators declared him the poshest of Team GB's athletes, and reminded us which school he had attended. I don't know where Christine Ohuruogu went to school, so why does it matter whether Lawrence Clarke went to Eton, or Millfield, or Repton, or Radley?

But to everyone from the Prime Minister to Denise Lewis it seems it does matter.

And I think our independent schools deserve a huge amount of praise for turning out young people ready to lead the world in their chosen field, before collecting their Olympic medal with grace and humility. Without the privately educated and their prowess in the middle-class, sitting-down sports of rowing, sailing and equestrianism, Team GB would lack a significant part of its golden sheen.

Of course that won't come as a surprise to the schools in question. In the days of the British Empire and the First World War, the public schools' aim was to produce gentlemen ready to take on the world on the battlefield. Now they turn out young men and women ready to compete in the boardroom, on the trading floor or, in this case, on the sports field.

Quality teaching, coaching and facilities help, of course, but the abiding memory from my time at school was the spirit of competition that pervaded every aspect of school life. Not in a 'win at all costs' kind of way, but the kind that encouraged you to practice hard, hone your skills and work hard for your team. There were competitions for everything, from sport to academics, and everyone wanted to win everything for their team, their house, and particularly for their school.

And these days the schools aren't just full of the sons of gentlemen, destined to occupy these lofty positions before they were even born. Expanding their horizons, doing a real service to the community, and set against this spirit of inter-school competition, independent schools are home to a huge number of athletes and academics, who are able to hone their skills in an environment which helps them to excel, regardless of their parents' ability to pay.

Tom Daley, the diver, is a perfect example of the benefits this can bring. Offered a scholarship by local independent school Plymouth College, Tom's diving career has gone from strength to strength, but he has also been able to gain eight A*s at GCSE and four As in his A Levels. No state school system could possibly hope to provide the flexibility, resources and dedication required to hone an elite athlete as well as offering them a top quality education.

Far from being 'wholly unacceptable', this is why independent schools exist, and we should be thankful for it. Of course there are many other factors at play, including universities (Loughborough graduates dominate Team GB) and the ability of each individual athlete to push themselves to the limit in training and competition, but by honing the talents, skills and competitive instincts of children from across the social spectrum, independent schools are setting their pupils off on the right path, and doing their nation a real service in the process.


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