Parliamentary Privilege – The MPs 2015

Report Overview

This reports builds on from our previous report Parliamentary Privilege – The Candidates and examines the backgrounds of MPs in the new House of Commons.

The Sutton Trust has also examined the backgrounds of the new Cabinet. See the results of our analysis here.

Key Findings

  • Almost a third (32%) of MPs in the new House of Commons was privately educated. This means that the new House is only a little more representative than that elected in 2010, when 35% of MPs had been to a fee-paying school.
  •  The research brief, Parliamentary Privilege – the MPs, shows that around half (48%) of Conservative MPs were privately educated, compared to 14% of Liberal Democrats, 5% of SNP MPs for whom we have data and 17% of Labour MPs. Among other MPs, 24% went to a fee-paying school. However, the proportion of privately educated Conservative MPs has fallen from 54% in the last parliament and 73% in 1979.
  • With only 7% of the general population attending independent schools, MPs are over four times more likely to have gone to a fee-paying school than their constituents. Out of those MPs who were privately educated, almost one in ten went to Eton.
  • The research draws on data compiled by the Sutton Trust and public affairs consultant Tim Carr from public sources, requests to candidates in marginal constituencies and those in seats where the previous MP was not standing again.
  • Nine out of ten MPs are graduates. Of those who went to a UK university, 26% hold an Oxbridge degree and 28% went to another Russell Group university. Whilst the public might expect MPs to have good degrees, previous research by the Trust found that those from the richest fifth of neighbourhoods are still nine times more likely to go to the top universities than those from the poorest fifth.


  1. More schools, particularly in urban areas, should take the opportunity where they are responsible for their own admissions to introduce random allocation (ballots) or banding to ensure that a wider mix of pupils has access to the most academically successful comprehensives. Reducing the emphasis on geographical proximity will allow fairer access to the best schools and limit socially divisive incentives for house buying and gaming the system. Ballots can ensure a wider mix of pupils have the possibility of attending the best schools, and banding can help to secure school intakes reflecting a wide range of ability. With school accountability measurement changing to a ‘value added’ approach, this reduces the incentives for admissions policies biased towards high prior attainment, and provides an opportunity for a change of emphasis in this regard.
  2. Banding is most effective when a co-operative agreement can be reached between schools in an area. Local co-ordination could be achieved through a local admissions forum, or brokered through the local authority. Groups of schools should thus be encouraged to develop a shared approach to admissions.
  3. Ballots can be used in conjunction with catchment areas to improve the diversity of intake. One way of using random allocation, while making sure that those who live very close to schools are not unduly disadvantaged, could be to introduce both ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ catchment areas. However, using either banding or ballots in isolation may be more effective than using both in combination.
  4. Information availability and willingness to go the extra mile often has significant effects on access to better schools. The Government should find ways – working with community groups, consumer agencies and businesses that are successful in working class communities – to make it easier for all parents to access a range of information to facilitate informed choice-making over their children’s education. This is particularly important with the implementation of the new accountability measures and imminent changes to GCSE grading.
  5. It is particularly important that parents are aware not just of the school choices available, but of their rights to free transport to a choice of three schools within six miles of their home (or up to 15 miles for faith schools) if their child is eligible for Free School Meals.
  6. Faith Schools need to look at their recruitment of disadvantaged pupils. The government has mooted lifting the restrictions on the proportion of pupils new faith schools can select on the basis of religious faith (currently 50%). As our report demonstrates, faith schools are already among the most socially selective of schools, and lifting this restriction is likely to make them even more unrepresentative of their local areas, reducing the number of good school places available to pupils across the socio-economic spectrum. The admissions process for faith schools should instead be opened up so that their admissions are fairer and begin to reflect their local population, while maintaining their ethos.

May 10, 2015