From the Editor - It's money, not class, that makes gold medals

10th August 2012 at 01:00

What an incredible performance by Team GB! They've won enough bling to light up a nation and blind the Aussies, French and Germans. And they did it despite the awful legacy bequeathed by state schools, which deliberately sold off thousands of playing fields, squeezed any competitive spirit out of kids and left the heavy lifting to the independents like the lefty, unpatriotic bounders they are!

This nonsense, peddled by the Right and such well-known experts on state education as billionaire Rupert Murdoch, is not only wrong but also insulting. If it wasn't for teachers in state schools, would Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah or Jessica Ennis ever have bagged their gold medals (see pages 8-10)?

Yes, thousands of playing fields were sold off - the vast majority under Tory governments. It was hardly the fault of cash-strapped schools if they lacked the resources to maintain them or had to flog them to balance the books. It's akin to excoriating hard-up families for selling the car so they can afford the rent.

What about the supposedly rampant anti-competitive sports "culture" in state schools? There is no evidence that this exists. Of course, it's always possible to unearth some hippie head who equates competitive games with the evils of capitalism, thinks music died with Jimi Hendrix and would rather join his hero than hold a sports day. But they are as common as Australian gold medals.

The facts tell a different story. The proportion of pupils playing competitive sports increased from 58 per cent to 78 per cent between 2006-07 and 2009-10, according to the Department for Education. Tens of thousands of teachers in state schools routinely devote hours of their time to developing athletic talent. To airbrush them out of the national sporting picture is mean, unjust and reveals a class prejudice that should have died out with the Romanovs.

It's true that athletes who went to independent schools have won a disproportionate number of our medals. But the conclusion reached - that state schools lack the necessary sporting "culture" - is bizarre. No: what they lack is money. Dressage is difficult to do well in Deptford.

Independent schools can afford armies of dedicated staff, generous scholarships and excellent venues - most of which, by the way, they share with local state schools. And good for them.

But why should their deserved success be used to bash the maintained sector? Similar arguments are not made about state schools' dominance of football. "Token Lampard masks pitiful public school presence in Premier League" is a headline yet to make an appearance.

These Olympics have been fantastic. Journalists have worn out superlatives in describing the venues, the volunteers, the crowds and the competitors. Above all, we have, to our own surprise, found that as a nation we are enthusiastic, imaginative, diverse, tolerant and, when we put our minds to it, successful.

How appalling, then, that some politicians have chosen to use the Games to resurrect class prejudice and trot out the same tired myths about unsporting teachers. If the government wants to help state schools emulate the success of the independents it should spread the cash, not the insults. Or does it think that Mo, Jess and Bradley could have done even better if only they had gone to the prime minister's school?

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