The real Olympic legacy


In the 1970s research outlined the factors that can hit a child's life chances. Today, we are still fighting many of these issues, says Dr Hilary Emery.

With the inspirational successes of the Olympics and now the Paralympics, we must build on the Games’ values of equality, respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination and inspiration, as we start a new year.

In the 1970s, NCB research entitled Born to Fail? identified that poverty, domestic violence, poor education and ill-health can prevent children from achieving their full potential.

Schools play a vital role in helping to mitigate the effects of these inequalities, and as surely as our Olympic and Paralympic successes are celebrated, we should look beyond sport to explore other ways for young people to experience victories in school. Whether through the curriculum or extra-curricular activities, schools should use this opportunity to inspire pupils to get involved in things they enjoy, without fear of underachieving.

We know that some children, such as those who fall into the protected characteristics categories as defined in the Equalities Act 2010, (age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation) are more susceptible to bullying and being held back as a result.

Recent research by the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) and Cambridge University, Perspectives and Difference on Bullying, highlights how pupils with SEN and/or disabilities experience higher levels of victimisation and bullying. Stonewall, meanwhile, has found that 55 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying.

Children who are bullied will feel bad about themselves and their lives may be less successful as a result. We can help to change this for all children, and starting to talk about the issues is an important first step. Getting children to look for ways to stop bullying – to reduce the impact of these inequalities – is key to changing lives.

As a fresh batch of year 7s steps over the threshold they will bring a bundle of worries such as finding their way around, making new friends and managing their homework. But they may also worry about whether they’ll be accepted for who they are and whether they’ll be bullied if they don’t “fit in”. That feeling of not belonging is especially hard to handle at this age.

This is an opportunity for staff and older students to discuss, share and inspire through the values we’ve seen so much of over the past few weeks. To challenge behaviours that can lead to some feeling they do not belong and, for some, on to bullying.

At NCB, we host the ABA, a coalition of organisations and individuals committed to tackling bullying between children. For this year’s Anti-Bullying Week (November 19 to 23), the Alliance has focused on bullying as a barrier to achievement using the motto “we’re better without bullying”. The week provides an opportunity for schools to promote positive participation and achievement through assemblies and classroom activities.

The underlying factors identified in Born to Fail? 40 years ago still remain and impact on many lives, but the Olympics, and the values they highlighted, serve as a timely reminder of what can be achieved through support, commitment and passion. If we can bring these same values to addressing inequality, that would be the real lasting legacy.

  • Dr Hilary Emery is chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, which works in partnership with educational charities to improve the lives of children. Visit

Further information
Visit for free briefing papers, activities and resources for school leaders, to help inspire Anti-Bullying Week activities. An ABA conference, Tackling Bullying: Ten Years On, takes place on October 4. Visit


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