Let's follow golden road of Olympians

22nd August 2008 at 01:00
Three cheers for Team GB, our splendid sporting heroes whose tally of Olympic gold medals is the biggest since 1908. What can we learn from their success?

The key lesson is that extra resources, when carefully targeted and supported by the right strategy and leadership, produce results. The most remarkable example is our cycling team, now the proud owners of eight gold medals between them.

Research published this week by the End Child Poverty campaign suggests that a similar approach works in helping children from poor families to achieve success in exams. It cites the example of London schools, where children entitled to free school meals now do considerably better than children in similar circumstances elsewhere, thanks to additional funding through the London Challenge programme.

The message is clear. Rather than threatening to close struggling schools and replace them with academies and trust schools, as proposed under the National Challenge - a crude version of the London scheme - ministers should instead fund well targeted local programmes.

Rebecca Adlington, the 19-year-old swimmer who struck double Olympic gold in Beijing, provides another example of how shrewd investment in a well- devised programme can produce results. In her case, support came in the form of an apprenticeship scheme for elite sportsmen and women.

Olympic sports aside, putting resources into getting the best out of people is not new. Independent schools are world class when it comes to coaching pupils through public exams - and indeed developing sporting talent - largely because they can afford the best facilities and teach pupils in small groups. The advent of the A* grade at A-level offers them another opportunity to help their pupils gain distinction, with the danger that state school pupils will lose out in the race for places at leading universities.

As a society, we should be supporting the development of talent wherever we find it, and targeting help for those who most need it. This week's GCSE results show numbers of pupils achieving good results continuing to rise. But, with only about one in five from poor homes gaining five top grades, there is still much to do. Targeting resources to help them raise their game could pay off as it has so spectacularly with our Olympic athletes.

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