Lee Elliot Major assesses the school backgrounds of England’s football squad

Expectations for England have been reassuringly realistic for this World Cup. Our team is a mixture of young unproven talents and ageing stalwarts that will struggle under the hot humid conditions in Brazil – or so the logic goes.  But to what extent is England’s national football squad drawn from the widest possible talent pool the country has to offer? Are we missing out on potential talent that would make us contenders on the global stage?

One way to investigate this is to look at the school backgrounds of the players. Sutton Trust studies have shown that despite making up only 7% of schools, private schools produce 50% and upwards of the country’s leading people ‘at the top of their game’ across a swathe of professions. This highlights a huge waste of talent lost from state schools which make up 93% of all schools.

We also found that over one third (36%) of British medal winners in the 2012 London Olympics were educated at fee-paying schools – prompting accusations that sport had become elitist. A separate Sutton Trust report found that 26% of leading people in sport were from independent schools. The debate resurfaced last year when it became apparent that half of England’s cricket team were privately educated.

So how do football’s finest compare? The table below details the schools attended by England’s players. It shows that in contrast to other sporting and professional elites, our national footballers are broadly representative of the nation as far as education is concerned. Three players out of the squad of 23 (13%) went to private school. Interestingly two players – Frank Lampard and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who were educated privately also have fathers who played professional football. The majority of the team went to state comprehensives – many now branded academies (not to be confused with football club academies).

But what is striking is the glaring absence of London schools from the list. Only Raheem Sterling attended a school in the capital – after emigrating to London from Jamaica at the age of five. Meanwhile five of the squad were educated in Liverpool alone. A squad of 23 is obviously a small number from which to make any big conclusions. But London’s low representation is surprising. And it’s something I’ve observed for other sports and English players more generally in the Premiership. Could this possibly be a sign that London’s schools don’t have the playing fields that allow young footballers to flourish?

We also know that not only where you are born but WHEN you were born can impact on your life prospects. ‘Relative age effect’ (RAE) is a name researchers have given to the phenomenon by which younger children in a school year do less well at school or in sport.  Studies consistently shown that children born at the start of the academic year (September) achieve better exam results, on average, than children born at the end of the academic year (August).

In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell explains how an accident of birth also affects your chances of success in the sporting arena. Professional hockey players in Canada are disproportionately born early in the calendar year.  The eligibility cut-off for junior hockey is January 1st. At age 10 it is the oldest children who prosper in the game, being bigger and better-coordinated than those born later in the year. They subsequently get more support and coaching, and improve as they age, and more likely to become elite players.  The ‘relative age effect’ has been shown for 4,000 youth players involved in the qualifying squads for UEFA tournaments, with far more born in January than any other month.

But once again the England squad bucks this trend. I’ve listed the birth dates of players in the table below as well. The dates spread across the whole calendar year. If you observed the relative age effect in England you would expect fewer players born in the summer months, given that school football teams are selected in September. And yet three players in the England squad were born in August. We appear to be drawing on talent from all the months.

But could the relative age effect be harming Brazil’s prospects? The school year starts in January in Brazil, when presumably football teams are also picked. Intriguingly there are no footballers born in November or December in Brazil’s squad.

But with the star players already at their disposal, somehow I’m not sure it will harm their prospects.

School backgrounds of England’s football squad

No Player Date of birth School attended
1 Joe Hart 19-Apr-87 Meole Brace School Science College in Shrewsbury
2 Glen Johnson 23-Aug-84 Leigh CTC School, Kent
3 Leighton Baines 11-Dec-84 All Saints’ RC High School in Kirkby
4 Steven Gerrard (captain) 30-May-80 Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School, Merseyside (Liverpool Academy)
5 Gary Cahill 19-Dec-85 Dronfield Henry Fanshawe School, Derbyshire
6 Phil Jagielka 17-Aug-82 Manchester (Everton academy)
7 Jack Wilshere 01-Jan-92 The Priory School Hertfordshire
8 Frank Lampard (vice-captain) 20-Jun-78 Brentwood School, Essex (IND)
9 Daniel Sturridge 01-Sep-89 Dwellings High Academy Birmingham
10 Wayne Rooney 24-Oct-85 De La Salle Humanities College, Merseyside
11 Danny Welbeck 26-Nov-90 Trinity C.E. High School, Manchester (Manchester United youth academy)
12 Chris Smalling 22-Nov-89 Chatham Grammar School for Boys (Millwall academy)
13 Ben Foster 03-Apr-83 Warwickshire
14 Jordan Henderson 17-Jun-90 Farringdon Community Academy Tyne and Wear
15 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 15-Aug-93 St John’s College in Southsea, Portsmouth (IND)
16 Phil Jones 21-Feb-92 Balshaw’s CE High School in Lancashire
17 James Milner 04-Jan-86 Horsforth School, Yorkshire
18 Rickie Lambert 16-Feb-82 Kirkby Sports College, Merseyside
19 Raheem Sterling 08-Dec-94 Copland High School in Wembley, North West London
20 Adam Lallana 10-May-88 St Peter’s Catholic Comprehensive School, Dorset
21 Ross Barkley 05-Dec-93 Barkley Broadgreen International School Merseyside
22 Fraser Forster 17-Mar-88 Royal Grammar School, Newcastle (IND)
23 Luke Shaw 12-Jul-95 Rydens Enterprise School, Surrey (Southampton Academy)

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