Private School Pedigree Overrepresented in UK Success, Survey Shows


A private education and privileged backgrounds are still critical factors to get a top job in your field in the United Kingdom, according to a report by Sutton Trust.

The Sutton Trust is an educational charity that encourages social mobility. The survey takes a closer look at the educational backgrounds of 1,200 people working on managerial positions in a range of professions: the army, medicine, politics, business, law, the entertainment industry, business, Nobel Prize winners. The report was published just before the launch of a government inquiry into how to improve social mobility nationwide.

The Sutton Trust has been conducting similar surveys for more than ten years now. Although it reports “small signs” of improvement, this year’s results re-affirmed what has been known for years, writes Sally Weale of The Guardian: that if you are privately-educated, you have a greater chance to get a top job in the United Kingdom.

The survey found that while the comprehensive system educates 88 percent of the UK population, 74 percent of the judges graduated from independent schools, writes from the Staffing Industry Analysts. The same goes for 61 percent of top doctors and 51 percent of most influential print journalists in the country.

Although just 7 percent of the population attend independent fee-paying schools, the survey says that 71 percent of top army officers were educated privately, with 12 percent having graduated from comprehensive schools.

As far as politics is concerned, the picture is a little bit more optimistic. The survey revealed that 32 percent of Members of Parliament are privately educated. Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet has fewer former independent school students than the previous coalition cabinet of 2010, but slightly more than Tony Blair’s post-election Cabinet in 2005. The survey also showed that 47 percent of the current cabinet members studied at Oxbridge, along with 32 percent of the shadow cabinet.

According to Sutton Trust research fellow Dr. Philip Kirby, an affluent background also plays a vital role for career growth. In an interview with the BBC, he commented that recent graduates from privileged backgrounds had broader professional social networks that can help them access the job market more easily. Further to that, their parents could financially support them during the unpaid internships that are becoming increasingly important for career development.

The Sutton Trust research study also covered the British Oscar and Bafta winners. It turned out that 42 percent of British Bafta winners graduated from private schools, compared to 19 percent of those who have been given a Brit music award. Furthermore, 67 percent of British Oscar winners also went to private schools, writes Josie Gurney-Read of The Telegraph, including Eddie Redmayne, who went to Eton, and Kate Winslet, who graduated from Redroofs Theatre School.  Only three British Oscar winners, Peter Finch, Greer Garson and Colin Firth – who won the Oscar for his role in The King’s Speech – graduated from comprehensive schools.

When asked by the BBC to make recommendations to improve social mobility, Chairman of the Sutton Trust Sir Peter Lampl suggested:

“The key to improving social mobility at the top is to open up independent schools to all pupils based on merit not money as demonstrated by our successful Open Access scheme, as well as support for highly able students in state schools.”

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