Britain is still a “deeply elitist” society where the best-paid and most-powerful jobs are dominated by a narrow group educated at private schools and Oxbridge, according to an extensive new analysis.
The lack of diversity means that many of Britain's key institutions are not representative of the public they serve, the study of 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders claims.
The report, from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, concludes that Britain's elite is still “formed on the playing fields of independent schools” and “finished in Oxbridge’s dreaming spires”.
The study reveals that the judiciary is the professional group with the most-advantaged educational background – one in seven judges went to just five independent schools: Eton, Westminster, Radley, Charterhouse and St Paul’s School for boys.
The analysis showed that nearly two-thirds of senior armed-forces officers, over half of permanent secretaries and senior diplomats and a third of MPs went to private schools.
Nationally, around 7 per cent of the UK population is independently educated.
Graduates of Oxford and Cambridge universities were also dominant in top jobs, with three-quarters of senior judges attending one of these two universities, along with the majority of the Cabinet.
“Our examination of who gets the top jobs in Britain today found elitism so stark that it could be called ‘social engineering’,” the report says.
It adds that the “sheer scale of the dominance of certain backgrounds” raises questions about whether getting a top job is about ability or knowing the right people.
The report also highlights that only a small minority of those who are privately educated are from disadvantaged backgrounds, with around 1 per cent of pupils receiving means-tested scholarships covering 100 per cent of fees.
Alan Milburn, chair of the commission, said: “This research highlights a dramatic over-representation of those educated at independent schools and Oxbridge across the institutions that have such a profound influence on what happens in our country. It suggests that Britain is deeply elitist."
He added: "Locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain's leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be."
Mr Milburn said there is a risk that the more that just a few dominate key roles in society, the less likely it is that others think they can take part, leading to a “closed shop at the top”.
The study says the “grip” of the narrow social group currently in the top jobs will only loosen slowly in the future and calls for a national effort involving government, parents, schools, universities and employers to “break open” Britain's elite.
Schools, it said, needed to redouble efforts to close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils, improve careers advice, work experience, extracurricular activities and ‘character’ education.
Commenting on the research, Lee Elliot Major, director of policy at social-mobility charity the Sutton Trust said: “While we are making progress with the young people we work with, it’s clear that more needs to be done at government level to address the issue of low social mobility.”
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said that independent schools "strongly supported" social mobility and the current holders of top posts were educated in a different era.
"Our schools are making strenuous efforts to raise bursary funding to become more inclusive and to offer wider access to a more diverse pupil base. One in three of our pupils currently receive help with their fees and ISC schools provide £660 million in fee assistance." he said.
“Back in the sixties and seventies, when many of those in the top jobs were educated at our schools, the educational landscape was very different, with independent schools receiving significant government funding to enable children from less advantaged backgrounds to attend them."
He added that it was now "too crude to use school type as a proxy for privilege."
"Our schools take quite large numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds on bursaries. And there are many comprehensive schools that have a very middle-class intake and whose children are quite privileged. Therefore to divide the world into independent and state schools is just unintelligent.”
Private school pupils' £200,000 wage premium - July 2014
'Universities should pay for pupils to go private' - October 2012