Elite five times more likely to have private education

Call for independent day schools to open to all pupils 'based on merit, not money', as study reveals impact of privilege

The proportion of the most influential people in Britain who attended private school has been revealed by new research

Britain's most influential people are five times more likely to have studied at a private school than the general population, new research suggests.

Only 7 per cent of Brits are privately educated, compared with 39 per cent of those in top positions, according to data from the Sutton Trust.

The education charity says that its report, published with the Social Mobility Commission, reveals a pipeline from fee-paying schools through Oxbridge and into top jobs.


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The research, released as old Etonian Boris Johnson and former Charterhouse head boy Jeremy Hunt vie to be the next prime minister, looked at the educational backgrounds of more than 5,000 of the country's leading people in 37 categories across nine broad areas. These were politics, business, the media, Whitehall and public bodies, public servants, local government, the creative industries, women and sport.

The advantages of independent school

Published on Tuesday, the report – Elitist Britain 2019 – says that women are under-represented in all of the areas surveyed.

But for those who do make it to the top, their education journeys look different to men.

They are less likely to have attended Oxbridge than their male counterparts, including in the judiciary, where they are 25 percentage points less likely, and in the House of Lords, where they are 21 percentage points less likely.

At the time of the analysis in spring 2019, almost two-fifths (39 per cent) of the cabinet were privately educated. For the shadow cabinet, it was just 9 per cent.

Across the 37 categories looked at, the privately educated were under-represented only among men and women footballers.

The research shows that power rests with a narrow section of the population – the 7 per cent who attend private schools and the 1 per cent who graduate from Oxford and Cambridge.

It also reveals that across various public bodies there is a majority of private school alumni.

They make up 65 per cent of senior judges, 59 per cent of civil servant permanent secretaries, 57 per cent of the House of Lords and 52 per cent of Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomats.

The media also has some of the highest numbers of the privately educated. Of the 100 most influential news editors and broadcasters, 43 per cent went to fee-paying schools, and 44 per cent of newspaper columnists were privately educated.

The report reveals big differences in the educational backgrounds of men and women at the top of sporting life.

Just 5 per cent of men's football international players attended independent schools, in stark contrast to the 37 per cent of rugby internationals and 43 per cent of the England cricket team.

Women's teams showed similar patterns to their male counterparts in terms of school background, but around 80 per cent of female internationals across football, cricket and rugby attended university, compared with a very small number of men.

Among the wealthiest members of the TV, film and music industries, there are substantial numbers of independent school attendees, at 38 per cent, the research suggests.

The Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission make a number of recommendations in the report to ensure that the talents of people from all backgrounds are utilised.

These include tackling financial barriers to specific industries and professions, especially by paying internships of significant length, and adopting contextual recruitment and admissions practices.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and executive chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "Britain is an increasingly divided society.

"Divided by politics, by class, by geography. Social mobility, the potential for those to achieve success regardless of their background, remains low.

"The key to improving social mobility at the top is to tackle financial barriers, adopt contextual recruitment and admissions practices, and tackle social segregation in schools.

"In addition, we should open up independent day schools to all pupils based on merit, not money, as demonstrated by our successful Open Access scheme."

The researchers looked at past school and university attendance of around 5,000 individuals.

Publicly available sources were used including Who's Who, media interviews, local newspaper reports and LinkedIn profiles.

In some cases, information was provided confidentially by the individual.

School category was defined as where the individual spent most of their secondary school years, and university where they completed their first undergraduate degree.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "As this research makes clear, Britain is a deeply divided and unequal class-based society with those in the most powerful and prestigious professions much more likely to have attended private schools and Oxbridge than the country as a whole, despite these institutions educating a tiny minority of the population.

"It is simply unacceptable that in the 21st century, the biggest indicator of future employment, wealth and status is the school or university you attended and the wealth and social position of your parents.

"It is clear that the government's emphasis on social mobility has failed. Instead, government must commit to tackling and ending poverty and inequality in the UK. "

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