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Leading People 2016

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Over a decade ago, the Sutton Trust published its first report on the educational backgrounds of the UK’s professional elite, looking at the schools and universities attended by top solicitors, barristers and judges.

Since then, we have published over ten updates on the educational backgrounds of people at the top of the professions, across a range of sectors. These include members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, leading news journalists, top medical professionals, FTSE 100 chief executives, university vice-chancellors, leading scientists and scholars and a selection of the most famous people in the arts.

Across the years, these reports have shown the staying-power of the privately-educated at the top of the UK’s professional hierarchy. Even when those with such backgrounds retire from the top of their field, they are frequently replaced by those with a similar educational past. In this report, these results are updated. The charts below show the data for the key professions, looking at whether or not they were privately educated and went to Oxford or Cambridge universities.

Key findings 

school record table


university record table



  1. The Careers and Enterprise Company should be resourced and encouraged to trial and identify what works in careers advice for disadvantaged pupils.
  2. Good internships are rated highly by top employers, but many are unpaid. After four weeks, all interns should be paid the National Living Wage.
  3. The Sutton Trust has pioneered the Open Access scheme, which provides low and middle income students access to top independent day schools. This programme should be supported nationally.
  4. More companies should be encouraged to sign up to the Government’s Social Mobility Business Compact, which should be strengthened to require greater transparency about diversity data.
  5. The government should introduce a means tested voucher system, as part of the pupil premium, through which lower income families could purchase additional educational support for pupils, such as extra-curricular tuition.
  6. Highly able pupil premium pupils achieve half a GCSE grade lower, on average, than other highly able pupils, with significant knock-on effects for access to leading professions. The government should develop an effective national programme for highly able state school pupils.
  7. Widening participation strategies need to do more than just improve academic achievement; they also need to provide knowledge of possible careers for disadvantaged young people.

Media coverage

In addition to the coverage on the right hand bar, the report prompted lots of further coverage and comment

Tackling economic inequality with the right to non-discrimination (David Barrett, OpenDemocracy)

More than half of solicitors are from the first generation of their family to attend university, finds Law Society (Hayley Kirton, City A.M.)

Greater diversity in senior solicitor positions needed before equality achieved (Unattributed, Solicitors Journal)

Three-quarters of Britain’s prime ministers went to Oxford or Cambridge (but mostly Oxford) (Unattributed, Quartz)

Selective Education and the Arts (Molly Willis, The Boar) 

Journalism: still the preserve of the privileged (NUJ)

Are state school pupils less likely to reach top jobs? (Full Fact)

Children from private schools have a better chance of winning Olympic gold than state-educated pupils says Sir Steve Redgrave (Thomas Burrows, Mail Online)

The Show Must Go On: Performing Arts in School (Unattributed, Independent School parent)

Breaking the socio-economic barriers to joining the Civil Service (Public Sector Executive)

Should employers ask graduates where they went to school? (Jess Staufenberg, The Telegraph)

Privately educated people dominate top British jobs, damning report finds (Richard Garner, The Independent and The i)

Half of Britain’s best actors privately educated (Josie Gurney-Read, Daily Telegraph)

Acting still a posh boys’ game (The Sun)

Top actors twice as likely to have private education as top musicians (Mark Ellis, Daily Mirror)

The morning news headlines (Press Association/Wales Online)

Nearly one in five Brit Awards winners went to independent school (Helen Ward, TES News)

Why children born now have less chance of bettering their lives than those born in 1946 (Dominic Sandbrook, Daily Mail)

David Cameron’s public school tie is strangling the country (Brian Reade, Daily Mirror)

Can setting targets break through diversity barrier? (Frances Gibb, The Times, £)

Almost three quarters of actors in film and theatre are from middle-class backgrounds despite only making up a third of the population, new research reveals (Alexander Robertson, Mail Online)

Why are so many British actors privately-educated? (Frances Ryan, New Statesman)

Top jobs still dominated by privately educated, study finds (Sebastian Mann, Evening Standard)

The best state schools have pulled ahead of private schools. Why is that so hard to accept? (Fraser Nelson, Spectator)

Lifting the socio-economic glass ceiling (Lee Elliot Major, Progress)

School for luvvies: Seven in 10 Brit Oscar winners went to private school  (Katie Mansfield, Daily Express online)

How private school education could clinch you a BAFTA or BRIT award (Emma McKinney, Birmingham Mail)

Ten things you need to know today (The Week)

YP Comment: A long road to future success – skills are still the number one issue (Leading article, Yorkshire Post)

At my private school, PE meant skiing and work experience meant Magic Circle law firms – how is that fair? (Victoria Richards, The Independent)

Law Society urges solicitors to adopt fairer recruitment practices (Hayley Kirton, City AM)

Privatschulen in England: Privat. Macht. Staat. (Spiegel Online, Germany)

Five Hot New Ways Young People’s Lives Got Worse This Week (Simon Childs, Vice UK)

To end the Tories’ assault on the young, Labour must get back into power (Gloria di Piero MP, New Statesman)

Start the class war with a blast from a double barrelled surname (Carolyn Leckie, The National, Scotland)

Cara Delevingne a model example of how a privileged few dominate our world (Jane Graham, Belfast Telegraph)

Opportunities knocked as life chances revert to 1946 (Jayne Dowle, Yorkshire Post)

Londra, la scuola privata garantisce la carriera (La Stampa, Italy)

Why the British establishment’s public school elitism is quite literally a confidence trick (Nigel Nelson, Sunday People)

Fair access to legal sector (Letters, Herald Scotland)

Private education a ticket to Britain’s most prestigious jobs (Brendan Cole, International Business Times)

Memo to Tony Gallagher: why journalism degrees really do matter (Roy Greenslade, Guardian)

Why the struggles of white working-class children matter – and what can be done (Tim Wigmore, New Statesman)

Medici, giudici, perfino gli attori: chi viene da scuole private fa più strada (Emanuela Di Pasqua, Corriere della Serra, Italy)

British actors of colour may have it worse than Americans (Los Angeles Times)

British private education and top professions (The Economist)

Tomorrow’s leaders must come from outside gilded cage of fee-paying schools (Alun Ebenezer, Telegraph)

British journalism is 94% white and 55% male, survey reveals (Oscar Williams, Guardian)

Robert Carlyle refused to adopt English accent at RSAMD (Scotsman)

In New Zealand it’s rare to be asked what school you attended: Will this ever change in Britain? (Peter Tait, Telegraph)

Britain wants businesses to ask about applicants backgrounds for diversity (Paul Waldie, Toronto Globe and Mail)

How employers have turned the virtue of youthful sacrifice into a vice (Cathy Holcombe, South China Morning Post)

Premier May komt op voor de Engelse grammar schools (Titia Ketelaar, NRC Handelsblad, Netherlands)