Forty-two percent of the UK’s top scientists and scholars were educated in independent schools – and the dominance of the sector looks set to continue into the next generation, according to the latest report from the Sutton Trust looking at leading figures in British society.

The report – which analysed the school and university backgrounds of over 1,700 of the 2,200 Fellows of the Royal Society and British Academy – also found that just 40 independent schools supplied one quarter of the current crop of leading academics. The proportion of top scholars from independent schools is higher than for university vice chancellors (27%) and MPs (32%) but less than leading journalists (54%), medics (51%) and judges (70%).

The study also found that over half (56%) of the Fellows studied at either Oxford or Cambridge Universities.

To predict the educational backgrounds of the top scientists and scholars of 2050, the study also examined recent GCSE, A level and university entrance figures. The report concludes that the prognosis is poor for bright non-privileged students: private school pupils are up to five times more likely to achieve an A* grade at GCSE in core academic subjects, and account for more than one third of top grades in key A Levels like Physics, Chemistry, Economics and History. This is a major reason why access to research-led universities – the pipeline for the top scholars of the future – remains skewed towards those from better-off backgrounds.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, commented: “This report is yet more evidence of the uneven life chances in Britain. Students from the independent sector, which educates just seven percent of children, are substantially more likely to reach the top of our most coveted professions and succeed in influential walks of life.

It must be a priority to provide today’s bright non-privileged young people with equivalent chances to their better-off peers, so they can make the most of their talents. This means giving them the opportunity to study core academic subjects at GCSE and A level, as well as raising their aspirations towards the most highly-selective university courses. We must also ensure that inspirational teachers in shortage subjects like physics, maths and foreign languages are encouraged to teach in schools serving less well off communities.”

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