Rishi Sunak attended an independent school as did most of his cabinet. They are a staggering nearly nine times more likely to have gone to an independent school than the general population, according to analysis by the Sutton Trust published today. 61% were educated at fee-paying schools, while 23% went to a comprehensive and 13% attended a grammar school.

This proportion of alumni of independent schools is lower than Liz Truss’s cabinet (61% versus 68%), but similar to Boris Johnson’s first cabinet (64%). It is more than twice that of Theresa May’s 2016 cabinet (30%), and more than Cameron’s 2015 cabinet (50%).

The proportion of cabinet ministers educated at comprehensive schools is similar to Liz Truss’s cabinet at 23% vs Truss’s 19%, but lower than Boris Johnson’s first cabinet (27%). A number of those heading up key departments – including the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary – are educated at independent schools.

The proportion of independently educated ministers attending cabinet (at 61%) is less than earlier cabinets under Conservative Prime Ministers, John Major (71% in 1992) and Margaret Thatcher (91% in 1979). Tony Blair and Gordon Brown both had 32% of those attending cabinet privately educated, while 25% of Clement Attlee’s first cabinet had been privately educated.

Of the 31 ministers attending Sunak’s new cabinet (at 0830, Wednesday 26 October 2022), nearly half (45%) went to Oxford or Cambridge. This compares with 27% of all Conservative MPs, 18% of Labour MPs and 21% of all MPs. 32% of the new cabinet went from fee-paying schools to Oxbridge.

Sunak continues the academic dynasty at Number 10 that stretches back to the start of World War 2: except for Gordon Brown, every Prime Minister since WW2 who attended university was educated at Oxford.

Parliamentary Privilege 2019 – a major piece of research surveying the education backgrounds of the House of Commons – showed that 29% of current MPs in the House of Commons come from a private school background. Two-fifths (41%) of Conservative MPs attended an independent school, compared to 14% of Labour MPs.

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and Chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Rishi Sunak faces unprecedented challenges as he enters Number 10.

“In his new cabinet, 61% went to private schools – nearly nine times the number in the general population and 45% went to Oxbridge, more than double the average for all MPs. While his cabinet is marginally more representative than Truss’s, Tuesday’s appointments highlight how unevenly spread opportunities to enter the most prestigious positions continue to be.  Making the most of Britain’s talent regardless of background must be a priority.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Information on the education of cabinet members was taken primarily from public sources, such as candidates’ campaign web pages. The school and university backgrounds were obtained by using a number of publicly available sources, such as Who’s Who and MPs’ websites.
  • School category was defined as where the individual spent most of their secondary school years, and university where they completed their first undergraduate degree.

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