Anna Fazackerley cites the Sutton Trust’s Elitist Britain 2019 research in an article for the Guardian on the educational backgrounds of top academics.

Steve Smith’s parents were devastated to be told at school parents’ evening that the best their working‑class son could hope for was a job sweeping floors in the local shoe factory. He is now vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, part of the elite Russell Group.

Nick Petford left school at 16 and worked in a tool-packing factory before training to install air-conditioning. He is now vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton.

Britain’s most powerful jobs continue to be stacked with a tiny elite of people who attended private schools. But new research suggests that meritocracy is alive and well at the top of our universities. Only 16% of university vice-chancellors went to independent schools, according to a study by the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission of the educational backgrounds of 5,000 leading figures across a range of jobs.

In contrast, private school alumni make up 65% of judges, 59% of civil service permanent secretaries, 57% of the House of Lords and 44% of national newspaper columnists. The study demonstrates that higher education – alongside football – is one of the few British professions in which working-class people have been able to reach the top. Smith’s theory is that this is because studying at university is much more of a “leveller” than any other process you go through; the point from which your outcome is no longer determined by your background.


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