Ahead of tonight’s BRIT awards, new Sutton Trust research shows that top award-winning British actors are over twice as likely to have been educated at an independent school as award-winning British pop musicians – 42% of top BAFTA winners attended an independent school, compared to 19% of BRIT award winners. Just 7% of the general population was privately educated.

One reason appears to be the success of the state-funded BRIT school in Croydon, which educated Adele, Imogen Heap and Jessie J, amongst many other famous artists. But the difference in the educational backgrounds of these two groups presents new evidence on how accessible they are to talented young people from low and middle income backgrounds.

The findings are presented in Leading People 2016, a new report by the Sutton Trust that maps the educational backgrounds of leading figures in ten areas: the military, medicine, politics, civil service, journalism, business, law, music, film and Nobel Prizes. The Sutton Trust has been tracking the educational backgrounds of Britain’s elites for over ten years, and the report shows stability across time.

The UK’s top professions remain disproportionately populated by alumni of independent schools. In the military, for example, nearly three quarters (71%) of the top officers in the country – two-star generals and above – attended independent schools, while only 12% went to comprehensive schools. This proportion is slightly less than the country’s top judges – High Court and Appeals Court – of whom nearly three-quarters (74%) attended independent schools. In journalism, over half (51%) of leading print journalists were educated privately and less than one in five went to comprehensives which educate 88% of the population today.

State school students are slightly better represented in medicine: of a sample of the country’s top doctors, 61% were educated at independent schools, nearly one quarter at grammar schools (22%) and the remainder (16%) at comprehensives.

In business, a high proportion of FTSE 100 chief executives attended schools overseas, but of those who were UK educated, about a third (34%) went to private schools. In politics, nearly a third (32%) of MPs was privately educated. Half of the cabinet was privately educated, compared with 13% of the shadow cabinet.

Commenting on the findings of today’s report, Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said:

“Our research shows that your chances of reaching the top in so many areas of British life are very much greater if you went to an independent school. As well as academic achievement an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success.

“The key to improving social mobility at the top is to open up independent day schools to all pupils based on merit not money as demonstrated by our successful Open Access scheme, as well as support for highly able students in state schools.”

The reasons why some groups continue to be overrepresented in certain professions are complex and include factors like home support and academic achievement. According to today’s report by Dr Philip Kirby, Sutton Trust research fellow:

“Young people from more advantaged backgrounds also often have broader professional social networks, which can be used to access certain jobs, as well as parents who might be more able to support them through unpaid internships, which are increasingly important for career development.”

There are economic, cultural and societal benefits to opening up the UK’s top professions to a more diverse talent pool. Many firms and industries have recognised this and there has been a welcome focus on diversity and professional access in recent years, especially in the legal profession and the civil service. This suggests that there is an appetite for progress in the future. To help further this, the report recommends that:

  • The government should develop an effective national programme for highly able state school pupils.
  • The Sutton Trust has pioneered the Open Access scheme, where entry is on the basis of merit not money, which provides low and middle income students access to top independent day schools. This programme should be supported nationally to widen access to leading universities and improve social mobility at the top of the professions.
  • After four weeks, all interns should be paid the National Living Wage. Internships are often vital for career development, but inaccessible to those from less advantaged backgrounds.
  • More companies should sign up to the Government’s Social Mobility Business Compact, a commitment to ensure recruitment practices eliminate barriers to social mobility. This should be strengthened to require far greater transparency about diversity – including pay gaps associated with gender and education – and recruitment practices.

To explore the issues behind today’s report, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on social mobility, of which the Sutton Trust is secretariat, will lead an inquiry to investigate how best to improve access for people of disadvantaged backgrounds to leading professions – including law, finance, medicine, journalism and politics. This inquiry will ask leaders from across these professions what is being done to widen access and what the biggest obstacles are.



  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 160 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. Research for this report has profiled over 1,200 individuals, which has been supplemented with diversity publications from various organisations and previous work by the Sutton Trust. The report considers those educated in the UK only. The following criteria have been applied to sample selection: for the military, two-star generals and above (n=100); for medical professionals, working-age fellows of the Royal College of Physicians listed in Who’s Who (n=98); for journalists, a selection of leading professionals in the field, based upon deliberation by media experts (n=100); for chief executives, those at FTSE 100 companies (n=100); for civil servants, those listed as senior civil servants by Dods People (n=149); for legal professionals, judges who sit on the Appeals and High Courts (n=147), Chambers 2015’s list of their top 100 QCs (n=100), and top partners at ‘magic circle’ firms (n=128); and for those in the arts, prize winners who were born in the UK (BRITs, n=48; BAFTAs, n=81; Oscars, n=41; Nobel Prizes, n=79).

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