The All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility and the Sutton Trust is launching an inquiry into Access into Leading Professions. Together we will investigate how to increase access of people from disadvantaged backgrounds into the leading professions such as law, finance, medicine, journalism and politics.

The Sutton Trust has pioneered research into the educational backgrounds of those at the top of the UK’s professions. Our first report, on the legal profession, was published a decade ago. Since then, we’ve studied a variety of fields: from members of the House of Commons, to leading news journalists, to those most prominent in the arts. Our research has consistently shown that the UK’s professional elite is disproportionately educated at private schools and Oxbridge.

Leading People 2016, the Sutton Trust’s latest report on the subject, shows that the UK’s top professions remain disproportionately populated by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge, despite these educating only a small minority of the population. It found that almost a third of MPs in the 2015 intake were independently educated. As are nearly a third of those FTSE 100 chief executives that were educated in the UK. Of all High Court and Appeals Court judges, nearly three quarters attended private schools, as did over half of the top 100 news journalists and over two-thirds of British Oscar winners. This pattern is repeated, to varying degrees, across a host of other professions.

Over recent years, we’ve seen a greater focus on diversity in the professions. There has been improvement in the number of women appointed to boards at FTSE 100 companies, for example. The Coalition Government set up a Social Mobility Business Compact to encourage employers to be more open to people from BME and disadvantaged backgrounds. Recently the Civil Service announced it was reforming its recruitment process to encourage diversity. While many major companies have changed their admissions process and set up programmes aiming to widen access.

Yet research the Sutton Trust published in partnership with Upreach found that, three and a half years after graduation, private school graduates in top jobs earn £4,500 more than their state school counterparts. Half of this pay difference can be explained by the type of higher education institution attended or prior academic achievement but half cannot. Privately educated graduates are out-earning state school graduates with similar qualifications. This shows the access into top professions goes beyond educational achievement. Why?

This inquiry will ask three questions to representatives from the leading professions and those campaigning to widen access:

  1. What is being done to improve access into the leading professions?
  2. What do we know is working to improve access into leading professions?
  3. What is the biggest obstacle to improving access into leading professions?

The Sutton Trust has pioneered research into the educational obstacles to access into higher education and the top professions. Through this inquiry we would like to identify what is being done to ensure that disadvantaged young people are entering the top professions.

We would welcome written evidence from employers, representative groups and campaigners outlining what organisations are doing to increase access. More details here.


Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust:

“Graduates from low and middle-income backgrounds are hugely under-represented at the top of the professions. This is why the Sutton Trust has set up several Pathways Programmes such as law, medicine and STEM in partnership with major employers to enable students from low and middle-income backgrounds to access leading professions. We believe it is vital that major employers do more to improve diversity through their recruitment practices. It is more economic to provide access to a wider pool of talent and it is also fairer. Through this inquiry with the Social Mobility APPG we will look to find out what is being done and what is working to make the professions more diverse.”


Justin Madders MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility:

“For too long, our most prestigious professions have not been representative of the population of this country, with many of the top jobs disproportionately populated by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge.  Ensuring that access to professions is based upon merit rather than background is not only a moral imperative, it is an economic one too.  I look forward to exploring these issues in detail through the inquiry and making some positive suggestions about how we can improve this unacceptable situation.”


Baroness Tyler, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility:

“Why do some talented children grow up to fulfil their ambitions and become leaders in any number of fields, while others never realise their full potential? This is the question I posed in The Character and Resilience Manifesto which I co-authored in January 2014 for All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility, which found a desperate need to improve the so-called ‘soft skills’ of underprivileged children and young people. After successfully making the case to the government to do more to address this, the APPG will now will hear from leaders across the UK’s elite professions to find out what is being done to ensure that young people from any background have the opportunity to sore as high as their potential can take them.”


Flick Drummond MP, Access to the Professions Inquiry Champion:

“As a MP for Portsmouth – birthplace of Charles Dickens who, in Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, penned some of our best known and loved stories that managed to capture the essence of social mobility – it deeply frustrates me that the life chances of the children in my constituency are determined more by their backgrounds than their talents. Even in our highest profile state funded professions, medicine and the military, the upper echelons are dominated by the privately educated. I hope this inquiry will show what is being done to improve access into leading professions, so we can spread what is working more widely and ensure social mobility is not a Dickensian fiction.”

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