Adam Morton B330993 Thesis (PE and sport in independent schools - a sociological perspective).pdf (2.5 MB)
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Physical Education and sport in independent schools: a sociological perspective

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posted on 03.09.2019, 14:25 by Adam Morton
This thesis takes as its starting point what has been described as ‘one of the worst statistics in British Sport’: that independently educated athletes (those educated in UK fee-paying schools) were significantly overrepresented in Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. Beginning by demonstrating the heterogeneity of the independent sector, it seeks an empirically based, sociological understanding of how and why a small number of schools consistently see their pupils compete at senior international level. The central contention being that sporting success cannot be reduced solely to social class. Drawing on literature from the sociologies of Physical Education (PE), sport and education, the thesis interrogates the assumption that privilege leads to sporting advantage for pupils across the independent sector.

Methodologically, a critical, appreciative approach is taken. In a multiple-case study, six independent schools (given the pseudonyms Lyttelton, Cambourne, Northcote, Liffield, Gregham and Colbeck) provided a purposive, opportunistic and stratified sample which facilitated comparison between three highly successful, one moderately and two less successful schools, in terms of developing young athletes. Semi-structured interviews with key staff and pupils involved in international representative sport provided data pertaining to the support and development of young athletes. The subsequent analysis illuminates the field of PE and sport in independent schools and, for the first time, reveals how these schools, through a range of intra and inter institutional practices, support the development of young athletes.

In seeking a better sociological understanding of PE and sport in independent schools, this thesis employs a dual theory approach based on aspects of the work of Elias and Bourdieu and provides a sustained analysis of why some independent schools consistently develop successful athletes. In concluding, it argues that ‘one of the worst statistics in British sport’ reflects an ongoing process in which the distinctive function of sport serves a purpose in status rivalries both within the independent sector and the wider figuration. Whilst implicated in the reproduction of social and economic advantage in the UK, a more nuanced view exists in which a small number of independent schools are choosing to do something different and do so particularly successfully. Nevertheless, sport is not a fair and level playing field in which merit always rises above privilege - class still matters here. Furthermore, in updating Bourdieu’s notion of ‘distinction’ within this context, and describing the privileging of sport over PE, it makes an original, empirical contribution to knowledge.


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  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© Adam Tobias Morton

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Alan Bairner ; John Evans

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