Just ten prestigious private schools produced over ten per cent of the country’s professional elites, according to a new report published today by the Sutton Trust.

An Oxbridge education remains a must for a third of high-fliers in professions from the Diplomatic corps to the City and the Law, according to the study, the biggest ever to look into the educational backgrounds of the nation’s leading people.

The Trust has compiled information on the educational backgrounds of nearly 8,000 people who appeared in the birthday lists of national and Sunday newspapers during 2011.

The analysis shows that, although independent schools account for just 7% of all school places and independent boarding schools just 1% of places:

• Ten leading independent schools accounted for 12% of the leading people for which schools data was available. These are: Eton College; Winchester College; Charterhouse School; Rugby School; Westminster School; Marlborough College; Dulwich College; Harrow School; St Paul’s Boys’ School; Wellington College (see table 2 in main report for top 100 schools).

• Eton College alone produced 330 leading people – 4% of the nation’s elites.

• The top comprehensive schools– with six each on the list – are Haverstock School, (alma mater of the Miliband brothers) and Holland Park School (Hilary Benn). The top grammar school (though it is now comprehensive) is Watford Grammar School with 17 former pupils.

• 44% of leading people went to independent school, 27% to grammar school, 8% to a former direct grant school and 21% to comprehensives and other state schools.

• The professions most dominated at the top by independent school alumni are ‘public service’ (which includes royalty, lord-lieutenants, and others in national, public or local government organisations) 68%, followed by law at 63% and the armed services at 60%. The police are least dominated by independent schools with only 13% of leading police officers having an independent school background

• 31% of leading people went to Oxbridge and a further 20% attended another leading research university in the Sutton Trust 30, but 22% did not go to university

• The profession whose leading people were most dominated by Oxbridge graduates is the Diplomatic service at 62%, followed by the Law at 58%, the top civil service at 55%, education and literature at 48% and financial services or the City at 47%.

• The professions least dominated by Oxbridge graduates are pop music at 1%, sport at 8%, actors and actresses at 8%, the Police at 11% and the Armed Forces at 12%.

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

“This analysis shows how dominant leading universities and schools remain across the professions in Britain. That’s why it is so important that access to our leading schools and universities is on the basis of ability alone.

“For the last 15 years, the Sutton Trust has helped improve access to our leading universities through its ground-breaking summer schools and other programmes, and has shown how leading independent day schools could be opened to all on the basis of ability rather than ability to pay. We are working to improve social mobility in the early years, schools, universities and professions.

“But studies like this – and over 120 pieces of research commissioned by the Trust since 1997 – show how far we still need to go to improve social mobility in this country and ensure that every young person can achieve his or her potential, regardless of their family background.”

While two thirds of those on the database who attended Eton also went to Oxbridge, only 61 attended a comprehensive school before going on to Oxford or Cambridge. This represents less than 1% of the total sample. They include well-known politicians such as Ed Miliband, William Hague, Danny Alexander, Yvette Cooper, Stephen Twigg and Andy Burnham, and authors Zadie Smith, Philip Pullman and Antonia Byatt.

See the full report for examples of state and independent educated people in acting, broadcasting, popular music, and sport.


  1. The Trust study The Educational Backgrounds of the Nation’s Leading Peoplewas based on 7637 people educated at secondary schools in the UK, whose names appeared in the birthday lists of The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent or The Independent on Sunday during 2011.  Extra research was by Dr John Jerrim at the Institute of Education.
  2. The Sutton Trust was founded in 1997 to improve social mobility through education. Fifteen at Fifteen, an anniversary publication highlighting key Trust programmes and research, is also published today, along with a video which includes messages of support from the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband. The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove will speak at an invitation-only Sutton Trust anniversary lunch today (20 November).
  3. Copies of the publication and video are available by calling Ellie DeCamp on 020 7802 0647, email [email protected] or Tim Devlin on 07939 544 487 or email [email protected]. The publication will appear on the Sutton Trust website from 20 November at https://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/the-educational-backgrounds-of-the-nations-leading-people/ while the video will be viewable athttp://www.youtube.com/suttontrust.

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