Inside politics: Statistics for Scotland’s medal winners hide the fact that private schools deliver more sporting winners
IT WAS heartening to read the front page of yesterday’s edition of The Scotsman and learn that 70 per cent of Scots who have won Olympic medals were educated in the state sector.
Equally, it was encouraging to note that the proportion of state-educated athletes from Scotland is higher than that for Team GB as a whole.
This is surely an indication that some of the damage done to state school sport during the teachers’ strike of the 1980s has been repaired. But it should still not disguise the fact that a disproportionate number of Scottish medal-winning athletes have been educated privately.
The fact that three of Scotland’s ten gold medallists went to fee-paying schools suggests that private sector is still outperforming the state sector at most sports other than football. The success of Sir Chris Hoy (George Watson’s), David Florence (Stewart’s Melville) and Heather Stanning (Gordonstoun) is noteworthy when one considers that only 4.5 per cent of Scottish children go to private schools.
Private schools have always taken sport very seriously indeed. It is an attitude that has its origins in the Victorian muscular Christianity advocated by Thomas Arnold at Rugby School.
Those little darlings, whose mummies and daddies have had the readies to send them to these schools, have benefited from expertise of the highest class ever since.
Mark Sugden, the brilliant Irish scrum half of the 1920s, taught for a spell at Glenalmond. So did the formidable Welsh rugby captain John Gwilliam during the 1950s. Today the former England scrum half Steve Bates teaches at Fettes.
Indeed every Scottish private school can call on coaches of the highest calibre. Of course, the state sector has also benefited from sporting teachers – Terry Christie, the football manager who was head at Musselburgh Grammar springs to mind. As does Jim Telfer, the British Lions rugby coach and headmaster. And Lanark Grammar School PE teacher Roger Hynd played centre forward for Rangers in the 1967 European Cup Winners Cup final.
But one cannot escape the impression that private schools give sport a higher priority, which makes the Scottish Government’s target of providing state-educated pupils with at least two hours of PE per week in primary school and two periods in S1 to S4 look paltry in comparison.
Of course, the hefty fees paid by parents enable private schools to pay more to teachers, who are contracted to supervise extra-curricular activities.
But surely if there is a lesson that can be learned from the feel-good factor created by Scottish success in the London Olympics, it is the need to devote more resources to state school sport. Aside from creating elite Olympics performers, such an approach would create a healthier population and – might even improve the national football team.
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