Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping Children in Their Place

Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping Children in Their Place

Article excerpt

It won't surprise many people to learn that the British Olympian selected to carry Team GB's flag at the opening ceremony tomorrow went to a private school. Triple gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy attended George Watson's College, a Scottish independent school established in 1741. Annual fees are a fraction under £10,000.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister complained that a third of the athletes representing Britain at the Games were privately educated and blamed state schools for failing to encourage sporting excellence. As several commentators pointed out, that was a bit rich given that the last Conservative government did little to discourage comprehensives from selling off their playing fields.

In a sense, though, the Prime Minister - and these commentators - are missing the point since the 'all must win prizes' philosophy of so many state schools extends far beyond the sports field.

I t applies to excellence across the board.

I n too many comprehensives, children are discouraged from trying to stand out in any area. This is partly because the teachers don't want them to be disappointed, but mainly because they think ordinary, commonor-garden children aren't entitled to life's glittering prizes.

I t was this attitude that Bradley Wiggins, the first Briton to win the Tour de F rance, had to overcome at St Augustine's Church of E ngland high school in Kilburn.

I n a piece about his old P E master in the Times Educational Supplement, Wiggins contrasted Mr Gaunt's 'can do' attitude with that of the rest of the staff.

'When I told most other teachers that I wanted to win an Olympic gold in cycling, they dismissed it as crazy, ' he wrote. 'They said: "How many innercity kids do that?'' ' Tom Daley, the diving prodigy who is one of Britain's brightest Olympic hopes, encountered a similar attitude at E ggbuckland Community College in Plymouth. On its website, the school describes itself as a 'Centre of E xcellence for e-learning', but Daley's achievements certainly weren't celebrated. His parents were forced to transfer him to a private school after he was bullied by his fellow pupils. Like the staff at St Augustine's, they didn't approve of children getting above themselves.

The charitable view is that this attitude is largely unconscious, particularly on the part of teachers. …

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