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Educational backgrounds of politicians do not reflect society at large

1 December 2005

Nearly a third of MPs and almost two thirds of members of the House of Lords were educated privately, compared to 7% in the wider population, according to a report published today by the Sutton Trust. It also found that 27% of the Commons and 42% of the Lords were educated at Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: "The educational profile of our representatives in Parliament does not reflect society at large. Amongst current MPs one in three have been to a private school compared to one in 14 in the wider population, and this rises to over one in two of those on the Conservative benches and almost two third in the Lords. This is symptomatic of a wider issue - the educational apartheid which blights our system and which offers the best life chances to those who can afford to pay for their schooling."

The report also shows that Labour MPs who serve as members of the Government are more likely to have been to an independent school (25%) than Labour backbenchers (16%) and are more likely to have been to Oxbridge (23% compared to 15%). And while the proportion of Conservative MPs from independent schools has fallen from 70% in 1983 to 59% today, over the same period the representation of private schools on the Labour benches has actually increased from 14% to 18%. Sixty-two per cent of office-holders within the Conservative Opposition under Michael Howard were privately educated and 46% were Oxbridge graduates. Of the 15 Etonians in the Commons, all but two serve on the Conservative benches.

Nearly half (43%) of the 391 privately-educated members of the House of Lords were educated at 12 top private schools (see note 1) including 82 (or 13% of the total) who went to Eton.

Forty-three per cent of MPs have attended one of the top 13 universities - the Sutton Trust 13 (see note 2) - with the highest average ranking in newspaper league tables. The report concludes: "It is important to ensure the opportunity to attend these universities is open equally to all young people on the basis of merit. Previous work undertaken by the Trust has suggested that this is not the case at present and that - relative to their A Level achievements - those from state schools, poorer neighbourhoods and lower social classes are underrepresented."


1: The 12 schools are: Eton (82), Winchester (11), Harrow (10), Stowe (10), Westminster (10), Shrewsbury (9), Rugby (8), Charterhouse (7), St Paul's (7), Ampleforth (6), Marlborough (6), Radley (6).
2: The 13 universities are: Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrew's, UCL, Warwick, York.

SUMMARY OF POLITICIANS' BACKGROUNDS

Educational background of MPs and Lords, June 2005  

 

 All MPs

Independent School Oxbridge
32% 27%
Labour MPs 18% 17%
Labour Backbenchers 16% 15%
Labour Office Holders 25% 23%
Conservative MPs 59% 46%
Lords 62% 42%

School and university background of Labour and Conservative MPs, 1983 and 2005  

  1983 2005
Independent School Labour 14% 18%
Conservatives 70% 59%
Oxbridge Labour 15% 17%
Conservatives 48% 46%