Report Overview

In 2003, the Sutton Trust published a study on the university backgrounds of teachers in the state and independent sector by Prof. Alan Smithers and Dr. Louise Tracey. This report by Philip Kirby revisits this topic, using 2015 data from the National Foundation for Educational Research’s Teacher Voice Omnibus survey, and the Independent Schools Council’s Teacher Survey. It suggests that, while inequality remains between the qualifications of state and independent teachers, the gap has been narrowed over the last decade.


Key Findings
  • Of all teachers, state school teachers are more likely to possess BEd degrees than independent school teachers, but independent school teachers are more likely to possess Master’s degrees and PhDs
  • Of secondary teachers, independent school teachers are more likely than state teachers to have postgraduate qualifications relevant to the subjects that they teach, especially in the shortage subjects of physics and maths
  • Since 2003, the state sector has recruited approximately 6,000 further secondary teachers with Oxbridge degrees, increasing its proportion of Oxbridge teachers from 3% to 5%. During the same period, the proportion of independent secondary teachers with Oxbridge degrees has remained stable at about 17%

1. Further incentive should be given to graduates from the UK’s most prestigious universities to teach in state schools:

The state sector has made some progress over the last ten years in attracting more teachers from the UK’s most prestigious universities, including Oxbridge and the Russell Group. Schemes such as Teach First have contributed to this. The Sutton Trust believes that, if this progress is to be consolidated and continued, more incentives need to be provided to these teachers.

2. Further efforts need to be made to ensure that state school teachers have qualifications in the subjects they are teaching:

The Sutton Trust’s recent report, What Makes Great Teaching, found that the most effective teachers have deep subject knowledge.1 In the independent sector, a higher proportion of teachers have postgraduate and Oxbridge qualifications in subjects relevant to those that they teach. In the future, the Sutton Trust would like to see this gap narrowed further.

3. Further investment should be given to Open Access policies, which offer ‘needs blind’ admissions to independent schools:

Through the Sutton Trust’s pioneering Open Access trial, the Trust has shown that it is possible to open our leading independent day schools to all, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.2 This report reiterates these recommendations, believing that admissions to independent schools should be based upon ability, rather than ability to pay. More needs blind admissions to independent schools would ensure that less-privileged students have greater access to teachers with knowledge of Oxbridge and strong subject specialism.

4. Further incentive should be given to fostering partnerships between independent and state schools:

Formal partnerships between state and independent schools are increasing, but more could be done to break down barriers between the two. Last year, the Sutton Trust published its Mobility Manifesto, which called for a deeper relationship between state and independent schools.3 Such relationships offer the promise of further narrowing the disparity between the two sectors and enabling students to access more specialist A level teachers in shortage subjects.

5. Further research needs to be undertaken to determine why careers in independent, rather than state schools, are so attractive to graduates from the UK’s most prestigious universities:

This report, building on previous research, has identified an apparent discrepancy between the attractiveness of the state and independent sectors to graduates from the UK’s most prestigious universities. Further research is needed to understand why this is the case, and how the state sector can best foster increased recruitment of these same graduates.