The number of Oxbridge graduates teaching in UK state secondary schools has more than doubled in the past 12 years, according to new research published today by the Sutton Trust. Teaching by Degrees reveals there are now nearly 11,000 secondary teachers in UK state schools who hold a degree from either Oxford or Cambridge, a rise of 6,000 from less than 5,000 in 2003.

However, today’s figures show there’s still a significant difference between the state and independent sectors when it comes to the qualifications of their teachers. One in six independent secondary school teachers have a subject degree from either Oxford or Cambridge, meaning they’re three times as likely as their colleagues in the state sector to hold an Oxbridge subject degree.

Secondary teachers in independent schools are also more likely to have a postgraduate degree related to the area they teach, especially in subjects like maths and physics where there is a shortage of teachers. Nearly one in 15 teachers in independent schools hold a PhD compared to about one in 40 in state schools.

Whilst a degree from a top university is not the only factor leading to good teaching, previous research by the Sutton Trust found that solid subject knowledge was one of the keys to effective teaching.

Good teaching is particularly important for disadvantaged pupils. Over a school year, these pupils gain the equivalent of a year and a half of learning with very effective teachers, whereas the same pupils only advance by half a year with less effective teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is the same as a whole year of lessons.

To address this disparity in the qualifications of teachers in the state and private sectors, the Sutton Trust recommends that:

  • Graduates from the most selective universities should be given further incentives to teach in state schools.
  • Further efforts should be made to ensure that state school teachers have qualifications in the subjects they are teaching.
  • The Government should support the Sutton Trust’s Open Access model, which would offer ‘needs blind’ admissions to independent schools with more access to teachers with knowledge of Oxbridge and strong subject specialisms
  • Incentives should be given for state schools and independent schools to foster partnerships to improve access to well-qualified subject specialists, particularly for A-levels.

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

“One of the most important factors in being a good teacher is good subject knowledge. Yet in some key subjects access to excellent teachers is too often lacking in state schools. Although today’s figures show that there has been progress over the past few years with better qualified teachers and more from Oxbridge, it’s vital that we do more to ensure that pupils from low and middle income backgrounds are just as likely to access the best teachers as their more advantaged peers.”

Barnaby Lenon, Chairman, Independent Schools Council, said:

“The Sutton Trust are right to identify that teachers with high quality qualifications are hugely important in helping pupils achieve the best grades they can.”

“Independent schools have long understood that a teacher with specialised subject knowledge is best equipped to instil enthusiasm for learning in students. That is why our schools continue to seek highly qualified graduates who can be trained and developed professionally into first rate teachers. We continue to share this expertise through widespread Partnership work with state schools. “


  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 150 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.
  2. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) brings together seven associations of independent schools, their heads, bursars and governors. Through their member associations they represent nearly 1,300 independent schools and 500,000 pupils in the UK.
  3. Teaching By Degrees can be accessed from 0001 on Friday 19th June at
  4. Teaching By Degrees updates the findings of Teacher Qualifications, a 2003 report by Alan Smithers and Louise Tracey for the Sutton Trust that found secondary teachers in independent schools were seven times more likely than their peers in maintained schools to have a degree from Oxbridge.
  5. What Makes Great Teaching? reviewed over 200 pieces of research to identify the elements of teaching with the strongest evidence of improving student attainment. It found some common practices can be harmful to learning and have no grounding in research, but that good subject knowledge was one of the most effective ways for teachers to improve attainment.

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