The traditional dominance of privately educated athletes has been challenged by state-educated Olympians, as revealed by a breakdown of the medals won at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The correlation is more reflective of medallists than participants, with less than a third of Team GB’s 130 medallists having attended fee-paying schools.
This has narrowed the gap by four per cent when compared to the figures of London 2012. At the London Olympics, 36 per cent of Team GB’s medal-winners came from private education backgrounds.
Ten of the 13 British representatives to have won more than one medal were state-educated, including gold winning Olympians Mo Farah and Adam Peaty.
A Sutton Trust report that announced the findings compared the proportion of medallists to that of other professions. The percentage of privately educated MPs stands the same as that of Olympic winners at 32 per cent. However, it is less than that of leading journalists (51 per cent), top barristers (71 per cent) and BAFTA winners (42 per cent).
Sutton Trust, a charity that campaigns for increased social mobility through the education system, analysed the school background both of medal winners and Team GB members overall.
Although the most successful Team GB Olympians were proportionally more likely to have been state school educated, Team GB members are still four times more likely to have been privately educated, says the charity.
The rise in number of state school educated medallists is all the more astonishing as the number of privately educated members of Team GB actually rose 8% at the Rio Olympics compared to London 2012.
Despite this, the Sutton Trust report has said that a growing trend for partnerships between state and private schools has helped to boost the prospects of athletes such as swimming gold medallist Adam Peaty who attended state school but used training facilities at Repton public school.
Sir Peter Lampl described the success of Team GB in Rio as “a national triumph” whilst also speaking glowingly of the implications it had for social mobility:
“It’s been fantastic to see a growing number of our national heroes coming from comprehensive and other state schools, but alumni of private schools are still over-represented among our medallists.
“Although some state schools have improved support for competitive sport over the last decade, they’re still more likely to benefit from ample time set aside for sport, excellent sporting facilities and highly qualified coaches.”
Some athletes have had a mixed education, starting off at state schools before being awarded scholarships to attend private schools. Medallists such as Tom Daley and Helen Glover attended state comprehensive schools before being awarded sports scholarships at independent schools.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray, who won a gold for tennis at the Rio Olympics, attended a state school – Dunblane High School – before moving to the prestigious Schiller International School in Barcelona, Spain at the age of 15. The private school charged £40,000 for Murray’s 18-month stay at the tennis academy, as reported by the Independent.
Geoff Barton, the head of King Edward VI school, a Church of England comprehensive in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk attended by the silver medallist swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn, said that, “We shouldn’t be entirely surprised if a school with a purpose-built rowing lake produces more Olympic rowers than one without.” He also spoke highly of the early New Labour years initiative to increase investment in state school sports.
He said that whilst comprehensive and state schools are still behind in terms of facility funding and connections in the sporting world:
“What has changed is the way schools like ours – just like the traditional independent schools – now see it as part of our mission to support talented students through mentoring, flexible timetabling, and better links with their all-important coaches.”