The number of teachers working in state secondary schools with a degree from Oxford or Cambridge has more than doubled in a little over a decade, research published today shows.
There are now nearly 11,000 Oxbridge graduates teaching in state secondaries, up from fewer than 5,000 in 2003, a report by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust says.
It also reveals that secondary teachers in independent schools are three times more likely to hold a degree from one of the two institutions than their peers in the state sector.
Approximately 5 per cent of state school teachers hold a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, compared with about 17 per cent of those working in independent schools.
The report, Teaching by Degrees, says secondary teachers in private schools are also more likely to hold a postgraduate degree related to the subject they teach, such as physics or maths. And nearly one in 15 teachers in the independent sector has completed a PhD, compared with one in 40 in state schools.
While the report states that having a degree from a top university is just one aspect of what makes a good teacher, research by the trust last year showed that “solid” subject knowledge was essential for high-quality teaching.
Richard Sheriff, headteacher of Harrogate Grammar School in North Yorkshire said: “When you look at what makes a good teacher, the top thing is good subject knowledge and being passionate about their subject. Having clever people teaching kids helps them to be clever.”
Mr Sheriff said he would welcome “any graduate with a good degree” but felt that some might be reluctant to teach in a state school.
“People like to work in circumstances that are familiar to them,” he said. “The proportion of students going on to Oxbridge is much higher from independent schools than from state schools, so you have almost a self-replicating process.”
The Sutton Trust recommends greater incentives to encourage graduates from leading universities to teach in the state sector. It also wants incentives to promote partnerships between state and private schools and reiterated its call for “needs-blind” admissions into top independent schools.
Further research is required into what makes the independent sector more attractive than the state sector to teachers with Oxbridge degrees, the report adds.
Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council, said the research was right to highlight the importance of subject knowledge among teachers.
Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, said: “It’s vital that we do more to ensure that pupils from low- and middle-income backgrounds are just as likely to access the best teachers as their more advantaged peers.”