Opinion: Is sport enough of a priority at state schools?

Being a graduate of the state school system myself I always felt underwhelmed by the sporting opportunities I got at school. From year 7 to year 13 I was a member of the football, Rugby and Basketball teams. All three were severely underfunded and understaffed with there being only 4 PE teachers in my school. Students often had to make their own way to games, causing even more strain for parents as me and my friends had to carpool to games.

My school tried to promote sport for everyone, however by doing this it took the competitive element away. PE lessons were a disaster as they tried to encourage the less enthusiastic students to the detriment of kids who were passionate and wanted to improve their skills. Sports day lacked any competitive element as all students were declared winners and given medals no matter where they finished.

We only had one team for each sport and that did not encourage any competition for places. I remember going to schools cups and seeing private schools there turning up in huge coaches and putting out four or five teams, while we only ever took one.

In the 2012 Olympics a lopsided 37% of British medal winners were privately educated. While the England squad for the 2015 world cup 20 of the 31 squad members were privately educated compared to just 10 in 2003. If you take out football, state school students are massively underrepresented in a number of sports in this country.

A lack of facilities compared to private school students is obviously a contributing factor in this. However Chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw claims it is as much about attitudes as facilities. He claims many headteachers treat “Physical Education as an optional extra”.

Callum Helliwell a student at the University of Gloucestershire has experienced both private and state education while growing up and believes there is a massive differences in the two attitudes towards sport: “I’d come from private education where from the age 8 you are pushed to excel not only in academics but also in sport.”

Sport is too often seen as an obstacle for education and not something that can go hand in hand with education. I remember friends from my primary school who went to private schools turning into incredible athletes in secondary school even though it was never really a focus for them when they were younger. Sport became compulsory for them at private school and was encouraged along with their education.

Helliwell added: “The difference with state was that nobody seemed to care about your athletic ability. I was told off for being too competitive. I was teased for trying too hard. I’d been taught to win and it seemed like the whole school was intent on ensuring everyone had a great time rather than finding the best athletes”.

By removing the competitive nature from sport in state schools we are depriving its students and until the this attitude changes, we will continue to see a disproportionate amount of top class state schools compared to private school students.




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