Monday, 30 June 2014

Competing at school

Thanks to my grandfather's accounting acumen, my father's vocation and a pinch of native wit, I was fortunate to receive a privileged education. My secondary school was one of the better public schools, Clifton College. It happened to be situated opposite Bristol Zoo. I had to remember to turn left rather than right along Guthrie Road on my way from home. The school owned a great deal of real estate in this exclusive residential area. Strikingly, much of it was playing fields and sports facilities.

Around the main school buildings was first Collins' Field where the highest score ever made in cricket (628) was scored by one A E J Collins in 1899. I used to pass the plaque on the back of the brick air raid shelter commemorating it twice a day. Then came The Close, the huge cricket field (rugby in winter) where the main matches were played. When school matches weren't on there was room for a number of practice games and nets on the expanse. But that wasn't all. A few blocks away there was New Field, smaller, but including a pitch, athletics track and pits, and three squash courts. Elsewhere on the premises were some fives courts, tennis courts, a rackets court, a small heated swimming pool and a large open-air pool. But that wasn't all. There was also a fleet of four (or five) coaches to transport us across the famous Clifton suspension bridge to Beggar's Bush, a prairie of pitches for practice and minor matches. Now on this site, I believe, are floodlit and all-weather pitches. And of course the school had its boathouse on the river towards Bath where the rowing took place.

Why do I bother to tell you this? Not because it made me a great sportsman. It didn't! But to point out what a fatuous criticism Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, made about sport in state schools. I think he blamed headteachers' failure to encourage competitive sports in their schools for there being a disproportionate number of élite athletes from independent schools. I have a long enough memory to recall state school playing fields being sold off for development by government edict, to make some money. Independent schools by contrast have bought property. Of course state schools would love to have facilities comparable to public schools', which would enable far more practice and far more competition. However it's more a matter of resources than will.

And by the way, Sir Michael, how many of our top footballers are public-school educated? I can think of one. Or perhaps you don't rate football as a sport.


  1. Our Grand Daughter has been in State Schools since she commenced school.
    She is in top streams for all academic subjects.
    Plays football for her school team and also for a County Team. Takes part in tennis, rounders, netball,cricket.
    She is also a Junior Blackbelt in Karate
    I have to say though, a large part of this is due to the fact that she has an absolutely wonderful Mother who never ceases to encourage her.
    She starts Year 9 in the Autumn. I always think it is indicative of a good school if a pupil is happy there.
    She has sufficient wisdom and judgement to know that some Teachers are lacking in various ways but to deal with it in a sensible and courteous manner.
    Her school's Ofsted report was very good.
    I wonder whether Michael Wilshaw has any children?

    1. In my experience parental engagement is an essential ingredient. And I guess all schools have some weak links in teaching staff. As Head of 6th I used to steer my students away from them - unobtrusively! Being happy is a good test of a school in my view too.

  2. My school was a very minor public school, where I went under the "direct grant" scheme - with a good pass at the 11-plus examination, the county council paid for me. Its playing fields were alongside those of Worcester County Cricket Club (New Road). One morning the headmaster announced at morning assembly that the cricket writer for The Times had written that the County Championship cricket at New Road was so dull that spectators were much more interested in the cricket match on our school field.

    1. I'm sure Worcester CCC with the bearded Moeen Ali is much more diverting now!