Over half of the country’s leading news journalists were educated in private schools – which account for just 7% of the school population – according to the latest survey carried out by the Sutton Trust, the educational charity, and published today.
The proportion of independently educated top newspaper editors, columnists and news presenters and editors has actually increased over the last 20 years, the research reveals.

A survey also finds widespread fears in the trade that the high costs of training and low pay and security at junior levels will mean that an even a higher proportion of those from privileged backgrounds will dominate the news media in the future.

The Trust’s research detailed for the first time the educational backgrounds of a list of the UK’s 100 leading national newspaper editors, columnists, leading broadcast editors and news presenters both today and 20 years ago. It found that over half (54%) of today’s top journalists were educated in private schools which account for 7% of the school population. A further 33% went to grammar schools, and just 14% attended comprehensives schools, which now educate almost 90% of children.

In 1986, 49% of the top journalists were educated privately, 44% were educated at grammar schools and 6% at comprehensives.
The survey also reveals that of the 81% of the leading journalists in 2006 who had been to university, over half were educated at Oxbridge, including a third who went to one institution, Oxford. Among the 1986 sample, 78% were university graduates, 67% of whom had been to Oxbridge, including two-fifths to Oxford.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, which he set up in 1997 to promote social mobility by providing educational opportunities to young people from non privileged backgrounds, said: “This is another example of the predominance of those who are privately educated in influential positions in society, which follows similar findings from surveys of top lawyers and politicians. It cannot be healthy for our media leaders to come mostly from backgrounds that are so different from the vast majority of the population. The newspaper and broadcasting industries are not attracting a rich diversity of recruits and should look urgently at their recruitment processes.

Part of the wider solution is to open up independent day schools to all talented youngsters, not just those whose families can afford the fees. We also need to address the under representation of state school students, particularly those from less privileged backgrounds, at our leading universities.”

Lee Elliot Major, News Editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement, who led the research, said: “What the research does not suggest is that editors routinely favour those from privileged educational backgrounds.  But it does point to a systematic bias towards the better off at the crucial entry level into national news organisations.

There were a number of reasons for this. They range from: low pay and insecurity at junior levels; the high costs of living in London; the increasing costs of postgraduate courses; a bias towards those with family or personal connections within the industry amid a largely informal but highly competitive recruitment process; and finally the stronger skills and attributes attributed at an earlier age by those from private schools.”

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Rocky on the number below. The number is also monitored out of hours.

E: [email protected] T: 0204 536 4642

Keep up to date with the latest news