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Former Olympic chief Simon Clegg: Sport, independent schools and young people June 14, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, New releases.
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Simon Clegg CBE is the former chief executive of the British Olympic Association and was a key figure in the awarding of the 2012 Olympic Games to London.

Now chief executive of Ipswich Town Football Club, Simon recently gave us his thoughts on sport in independent schools in the UK for an editorial feature in Which London School? & the South-East 2010/11.

“I am passionate about the benefit that sport can bring to society. Not only through exercise but also in terms of the camaraderie and the building of esprit de corps, and the ability of young people to learn that it is important to play by the rules and the whole principles of fair play.

Sport also educates young people in experiencing failure and victory, and plays an important role in teaching young people about acting in an appropriate manner on a sports field. Our high-level sports people in this country do need to be seen as role models for society and it is quite important that young children aspire to be like these role models: sport is a very powerful vehicle for achieving that.

I went first of all to Haslemere Prep School in Surrey and then, after Common Entrance, I went on to Stowe. Sport is not the exclusive domain of the independent education sector, but I think that sport and extracurricular activities in general play a much more important part in independent schools than they do in state schools. I was very lucky in that both schools I went to took their sport very seriously and had great facilities.

The independent sector has increasingly been conscious of the need to provide quality sports facilities, particularly over recent decades as they find themselves in an increasingly competitive market. Sporting facilities are one of those additional areas that can influence people when they come to make a decision where to send their children.

I was recently invited back up to Stowe for the opening of the new athletics track with Sebastian Coe. They have now got the most fantastic facilities, state-of-the-art facilities which upgraded the track that they had there for many decades. This constant development of facilities in independent schools is striking.

There are some important factors in this disparity between the independent and state sectors. First of all, the financial independence that the independent sector enjoys is key: they are able to spend their own money on developing not only their own academic facilities, but also their extracurricular facilities as well. Of course in the public sector that is much more constrained; any funding that is available is spent mainly on academic facilities.

There is also a very clear understanding in the independent sector that the schools operate in a highly competitive environment and they need to attract custom. One of the ways of doing that is improving the facilities at the school from a holistic point of view.

The physical development of the individual is a major part of the holistic approach that I have to education. I take a very broad view about education, in which I see the development of the  whole individual as more important than just academic qualifications. Education should be about preparing children for life after academia and therefore one needs to think about not only their academic development but also their physical and social development as well.

To me, sport is a factor when it comes to choosing an independent school. Considering the career path that I have enjoyed, where sport played an important part first of all when I was in the Army, then when I was on the national ski teams in the mid 1980s, through to my involvement with the British Olympic Association and now with my role at Ipswich Town Football Club, that perhaps is not surprising.

But I have always looked at education from a holistic approach, where one needs to balance not only the academic aspects but also the sporting aspects, social aspects, and the pastoral aspects. When all those areas come together, a child is sure to have an excellent education.

It is impossible to look at any one area in isolation, and of course different parents will have different priorities to myself, but from my point of view sport is an integral part of the holistic approach, and independent schools in this country should be applauded for the importance they place on the benefits associated with kids getting active.”

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