New generation of top Olympians from comprehensive schools

A new generation of comprehensive educated Olympic medallists – including Laura Trott and Mo Farah – is challenging the traditional dominance of independent schools in elite sports, new Sutton Trust analysis shows today. But Team GB’s top Olympians are still four times more likely to have been privately educated than the population as a whole, particularly in sports like rowing and hockey.

Less than a third (32%) of Britain’s 130 medallists at Rio 2016 attended fee-paying schools, a four percentage point reduction from London 2012, when 36% of Team GB’s medal-winners were privately educated. The proportion of privately educated Olympic winners  is  the same as that for MPs (32%), but less than leading journalists (51%), top barristers (71%) or BAFTA winners (42%), according to Sutton Trust studies.

60% of this year’s British medallists – including Jess Ennis-Hill, Max Whitlock and Nicola Adams – were educated at comprehensive schools. 8% – including Jack Laugher and Joanna Roswell-Shand – went to grammar schools. Jason Kenny, who is now the most successful British Olympian ever after winning three Gold medals in Rio, was educated at a comprehensive school in Manchester. He is representative of his medal-winning cycling teammates, of whom 92% were educated at either a comprehensive or a state grammar school.

Although the proportion of privately educated athletes in Team GB this year was higher than in 2012 – up from 20 to 28% – the proportion of medallists educated at comprehensives has grown. 62% of medals were won by comprehensive educated athletes compared to 30% for those educated at independent schools. When total numbers of medals are considered, ten of the 13 athletes to win more than one medal are comprehensive educated.

The rise in state-educated Olympians has been attributed to the increased investment in sport in school through lottery funding and UK Sport. Some athletes benefited from sports partnerships between state and private schools. Adam Peaty, who won a Gold medal in the men’s 100m breaststroke, attended a state school but trained at the facilities at Repton school. Since 2002, state schools have also been encouraged to take part in initiatives supporting team games and competitive sports.

But there are still some Olympic sports that remain dominated by the privately educated. Over half (52%) of Team GB’s medal winning rowers attended fee-paying schools as did 50% of the winning women’s hockey team. An Old Etonian has won a medal at every Olympic Games since 1992, in either rowing or an equestrian sport.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said today:

“The success of Team GB in Rio has been a national triumph. It’s been fantastic to see a growing number of our national heroes coming from comprehensive and other state schools.

“But alumni of private schools are still over-represented among our medalists. Although some state schools have improved support for competitive sport over the last decade, they’re still more likely to benefit from ample time set aside for sport, excellent sporting facilities and highly qualified coaches.”


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 170 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. Figures refer to UK-educated sportsmen and women. Data has been sourced from Schools Week, Good Schools Guide and local media, who are duly acknowledged.
  3. For further analysis of the educational backgrounds of the UK elite, across a range of professions, see the Sutton Trust report, Leading People 2016.
  4. The figure on the educational backgrounds of Team GB is sourced from The Daily Telegraph’s .


Table 1: Medallists by school attended, London and Rio Olympic Games

2012 (London) 2016 (Rio)
Comprehensive 56% 60%
Independent 36% 32%
Grammar 8% 8%


Table 2: Medals by school of winner, Rio Olympic Games

Comprehensive 62%
Independent 30%
Grammar 8%


Table 3: Multi-medallists by school attended, Rio Olympic Games

Comprehensive 77%
Independent 15%
Grammar 8%
2017-07-27T11:32:26+00:00 August 22nd, 2016|Categories: Press releases|