Don't get mad, get even: How state schools can emulate the private sector's sporting success

John Claughton - the chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference Sports Committee, the chief master of King Edward's School, Birmingham, and a former Warwickshire cricketer - argues that state schools could learn from private schools' record

Cricket's international season ended this week with the main spoils going to England because of their 3-0 Ashes win over Australia. However, research has shown that this was largely achieved by players educated at private schools or abroad.

Of the team that represented England for most of the summer, only four – Jimmy Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Joe Root and Graeme Swann – were educated at state schools. Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad went to private schools, while Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were educated in South Africa. The independent schools' sporting prowess has been highlighted both this year and last – with Olympic and world-championship gold medals disproportionately going to schools that cater for only 7 per cent of British children.

Here, John Claughton, the chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference Sports Committee, the chief master of King Edward's School, Birmingham, and a former Warwickshire cricketer, argues that – rather than just being envious – state schools could learn from the private schools' record, and shows how independent schools could help them to lift their sporting profile...

Independent schools take the rap for a lot of things, sometimes with good reason. They dominate the best universities, the best professions, the Cabinet, London. They are even too successful at sport: the only cloud in the golden Olympic summer of 2012 was that too many of our competitors and medal-winners went to "public schools". And it wasn't just posh rowers such as Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. It was Chris Hoy and those Brownlee boys, too. And cricket is as bad, if not worse. A year ago, England had a triumvirate of cricket captains, Strauss, Cook and Broad – Strauss of Radley College, Cook of Bedford School, Broad of Oakham School – and in the team's batting line-up this year, only Joe Root stops it from being a lethal cocktail of "public-school boys" and South Africans.

However, such dominance in sport is neither pure chance nor a dark establishment plot. It's because the playing of sport lies at the heart of independent-school life, and has done so for generations, if not centuries. It's easy to see why. In the 19th century, the great boarding schools realised that sport was a Good Thing. It was a Good Thing for practical reasons. It is a truth universally acknowledged that you can't teach boys all day long, so you have to do something with them in the afternoons.

So, each school created its own football in the winter – Winchester football, Harrow football, the Eton Field Game and, the big winner, Rugby football – and those games lasted until it got dark. In the summer, cricket served the same purpose but, as darkness came later, it had to last longer. So, schools invented timeless house matches and two-day games and cream teas to fill those endless summer days. After all, the highest score recorded in Wisden is still 628 not out by AEJ Collins in a junior house match at Clifton in 1899. Perhaps, if public schools had not taken cricket and made it in their own image and for their own convenience, we might never have had five-day matches: Twenty20 could have been the norm for centuries.

However, if sport served a very practical purpose, it also came to have a moral purpose. Participation in sport was judged to build character, to teach virtue and teamwork, so that players learnt to win and lose, to lead and be led, to be part of a team, to back up and follow up, to play up, play up and play the game. There is hardly a school song without at least one verse about the spirit of the game, long before the MCC invented such a notion.

It may have been the great boarding schools that gave sport this central role in education and made it the cement that binds school life together, but the day schools that wanted to compete with these "great schools" followed their lead and continue to do so. However, the independent schools of today are not just playing cricket and Rugby football and producing Olympic medallists and Test cricketers because they want to dwell in the land of lost content that was Tom Brown's School Days. They do it, as in the old days, for two very good and obvious reasons. The first is that they believe in sport as part of an education.

John Claughton says that sport serves a moral purpose as well as a practical one John Claughton says that sport serves a moral purpose as well as a practical one  

Not everyone agrees that sport breeds character or that "the glory is in the game", but independent schools do know that a diverse range of sporting activity can do wondrous things. It does teach boys and girls how to compete and to co-operate. It does teach them to enjoy things that will be of value for the future, in terms of health and participation. It does provide more different ways in which pupils can be successful and gain self-confidence. It does contribute to pupils' enjoyment of school life. Sport does for schools what the Government would want it to do, providing the chance of excellence for the best and enjoyment in participation for the majority.

The second reason is that the parents of children agree with this analysis and are willing to pay for such opportunities. I don't suppose that many parents are willing to hand over large parts of their disposable income just so their sons and daughters can play rackets or lacrosse or face a bowling machine, but there is no doubt that the quality of sport is a material factor in the decision-making processes of parents. For many, it is part, and not a small part, of the package.

Since this is so, it is not surprising that many independent schools make their sporting excellence one of their key attractions, or that all, or almost all, independent schools have games players adorning their websites and prospectuses, or even their job adverts. Nor is it surprising that almost all such schools show their commitment to sport in manifold ways, by giving sport substantial timetable time, by employing coaches of outstanding expertise and experience, by requiring "ordinary" teachers to play their part, by expending great sums on facilities and teas and bus companies, by offering substantial scholarships to outstanding young games players.

So, in the end, when you put a talented games player such as Andrew Strauss into a school such as Radley or Alastair Cook into a school such as Bedford, schools that offer all that is best in facilities and coaching and opportunities, it's not a surprise that he goes on to be an outstanding international player and captain. And you could say the same over and over again about such people and such schools.

The sadness is that such an analysis does present starkly the gulf between the two cultures, between what an independent school can do with its tradition and commitment and, above all, funding, and what the vast majority of state schools can do. And there is no simple way to bridge that gap. However, perhaps there is something that can be done. Many, perhaps most, independent schools do collaborate in sport with the local community, playing fixtures against other schools, lending facilities and expertise, forming partnerships: for example, the MCC Hub initiative, which encourages independent schools to link up with local secondary schools, is already progressing to good effect.

However, there is much more to be done. In recent months, the Government, in response to concerns about the Olympic legacy, has allocated funds to junior schools specifically for the purpose of improving their sporting provision. The average sum is £10,000 per school, and that may not go very far if every school operates in isolation. However, independent schools could co-ordinate a number of junior schools and provide not only the space to play but also the high-quality coaches in which they already invest so much.

After all, there aren't many independent schools that don't have staff who have played their sport professionally or at international level. A number of independent schools are already at work on such projects and there are many, many more keen to join in. Such a project would provide for thousands of junior-school pupils the inspiration and opportunity that those fortunate fee-payers get already, and it is at such an age that they are most likely to be inspired by the coaching of an Olympian or a former professional. It might take a few Olympics before any of this bore fruit, but I don't think that independent schools would mind too much if, by 2024, their proportion of Team GB's medals was in decline.

John Claughton is the chairman of the HMC Sports Committee

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

WORLDbytes: Two-Day Intensive Camera training and Shoot: Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th March

expenses on shoots: WORLDbytes: Volunteering with a media based charity,for a ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 4 Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A school in Tameside is currently l...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are currently looking for ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower