Almost two-thirds (64%) of Boris Johnson’s cabinet received a private education, according to analysis by the Sutton Trust published today. 27% went to a comprehensive, while 9% attended a grammar school.
This proportion of alumni of independent schools is more than twice that of Theresa May’s 2016 cabinet (30%), slightly more than Cameron’s 2015 cabinet (50%) and similar to the 2010 coalition cabinet (62%).
This means that cabinet ministers are 9 times more likely to have gone to a fee-paying school for all or part of their secondary education than the general population, of which 7% went to private schools. However, the Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary – and importantly the new Education Secretary – were among those educated at state schools.
The proportion of independently educated ministers attending Cabinet 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 33 ministers attending Boris Johnson’s new cabinet, 45% went to Oxford or Cambridge universities. This compares with 31% of all Conservative MPs, 20% of Labour MPs and 24% of all MPs. A further 24% of Johnson’s cabinet were educated at other Russell Group universities (excluding Oxbridge).
Boris Johnson continues the academic dynasty at Number 10 that stretches back to before the start of World War 2: except for Gordon Brown, every Prime Minister since 1937 who attended university was educated at one institution – Oxford.
Last month Elitist Britain – a major piece of research surveying the education backgrounds of over 5,000 of Britain’s leading people – showed that 29% of current MPs in the House of Commons come from a private school background. In the Conservative party, just under half (45%) of MPs attended an independent school, compared to 15% in the Labour party.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said:
“Britain is an increasingly divided society. Divided by politics, by class, by geography. Social mobility, the potential for those to achieve success regardless of their background, remains low. Addressing this must be at the heart of our new Prime Minister’s tenure in Downing Street.
“The make-up of Johnson’s cabinet underlines once again how unevenly spread the opportunities are to enter the elites. The key to improving social mobility at the top is to tackle financial barriers to entry, adopt contextual recruitment and admissions practices and, critically, to tackle social segregation in schools.”
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.
- A PDF of the individual cabinet members can be accessed here.
- Elitist Britain, published by the Sutton Trust in June 2019, can be accessed here