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Top media jobs are dominated by the privately educated, says Sutton Trust

Sutton Trust: top careers dominated by privately educated

New research from Sutton Trust shows independent school still the route to top of many professions

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 24, 2016 | People, policy, politics

Ahead of tonight’s BRIT awards, new Sutton Trust research shows that top award-winning British actors are over twice as likely to have been educated at an independent school as award-winning British pop musicians - 42% of top BAFTA winners attended an independent school, compared to 19% of BRIT award winners. Just seven per cent of the general population was privately educated.  

The findings are presented in Leading People 2016, a new report by the Sutton Trust that maps the educational backgrounds of leading figures in ten areas: the military, medicine, politics, civil service, journalism, business, law, music, film and Nobel Prizes. The Sutton Trust has been tracking the educational backgrounds of Britain’s elites for over ten years, and the report shows stability across time.

In the military, nearly three quarters (71%) of the top officers in the country – two-star generals and above – attended independent schools, while only 12% went to comprehensive schools. This proportion is slightly less than the country’s top judges – High Court and Appeals Court – of whom nearly three-quarters (74%) attended independent schools. In journalism, over half (51%) of leading print journalists were educated privately and less than one in five went to comprehensives, which educate 88% of the population today. 

In medicine, of a sample of the country’s top doctors, 61% were educated at independent schools, nearly one quarter at grammar schools (22%) and the remainder (16%) at comprehensives. 

In business, a high proportion of FTSE 100 chief executives attended schools overseas, but of those who were UK educated, about a third (34%) went to private schools. In politics, nearly a third (32%) of MPs was privately educated. Half of the cabinet was privately educated, compared with 13% of the shadow cabinet.

Commenting on the findings, Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Our research shows that your chances of reaching the top in so many areas of British life are very much greater if you went to an independent school. As well as academic achievement an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success. The key to improving social mobility at the top is to open up independent day 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.”

The report, by Sutton Trust research fellow Dr Philip Kirby, suggests that the reasons why some groups continue to be overrepresented in certain professions are complex, but research is beginning to offer some explanations. He says: 

“Young people from more advantaged backgrounds also often have broader professional social networks, which can be used to access certain jobs, as well as parents who might be more able to support them through unpaid internships, which are increasingly important for career development.” 

To help further social mobility and access, the report recommends that:

The government should develop an effective national programme for highly-able state school pupils. The Sutton Trust has pioneered the Open Access scheme, where entry is on the basis of merit not money, which provides low and middle income students access to top independent day schools. This programme should be supported nationally to widen access to leading universities and improve social mobility at the top of the professions. 

After four weeks, all interns should be paid the National Living Wage. Internships are often vital for career development, but inaccessible to those from less advantaged backgrounds.

More companies should sign up to the Government’s Social Mobility Business Compact, a commitment to ensure recruitment practices eliminate barriers to social mobility. This should be strengthened to require far greater transparency about diversity – including pay gaps associated with gender and education – and recruitment practices. 

Chris King, Chair of HMC (The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference) and Headmaster of Leicester Grammar School said: “Leading independent schools are committed to contributing positively to British education and culture. To that end we provide pupils with great opportunities to nurture their talent and pursue their dreams whether academic or creative. 

“Rather than denigrate the successes of our pupils it would be more productive to identify what independent schools do well and support the huge growth in partnerships, which are happening between state and independent schools across the UK. Then we can work together to make sure all pupils reach their potential.” 

Read the report here:    

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