Educational Backgrounds of the Nation’s Leading People


The Sutton Trust has compiled information on the educational backgrounds of nearly 8,000 people who appeared in the birthday lists of national and Sunday newspapers during 2011.

It found that leading British actors are more than twice as likely as stars in the music industry to have attended fee-paying schools.

It also says professions like politics and the law continue to be dominated by privately educated Oxbridge graduates. The Trust said a child's chances of reaching the top still came down to their schooling and contacts.

The research looked at the educational backgrounds of more than 1,200 people, working in high positions in medicine, the law, the military, journalism, politics, the civil service, business, film and pop music, as well as Nobel Prize-winners.

It found that more than two in five (42%) of British Bafta winners went to a private school, compared with around a fifth (19%) of those who have been awarded a Brit music award. Also, two-thirds (67%) of British Oscar winners were privately educated.

The UK’s top professions remain disproportionately populated by alumni of independent schools. In the military, for example, nearly three quarters (71%) of the top officers in the country – two-star generals and above – attended independent schools, while only 12% went to comprehensive schools.

This proportion is slightly less than the country’s top judges – High Court and Appeals Court – of whom nearly three-quarters (74%) attended independent schools. In journalism, over half (51%) of leading print journalists were educated privately and less than one in five went to comprehensives which educate 88% of the population today.

State school students are slightly better represented in medicine: of a sample of the country’s top doctors, 61% were educated at independent schools, nearly one quarter at grammar schools (22%) and the remainder (16%) at comprehensives.

In business, a high proportion of FTSE 100 chief executives attended schools overseas, but of those who were UK educated, about a third (34%) went to private schools. In politics, nearly a third (32%) of MPs was privately educated. Half of the cabinet was privately educated, compared with 13% of the shadow cabinet.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust and of the Education Endowment Foundation, said: “Our research shows that your chances of reaching the top in so many areas of British life are very much greater if you went to an independent school. As well as academic achievement an independent education tends to develop essential skills such as confidence, articulacy and team work which are vital to career success.

“The key to improving social mobility at the top is to open up independent day schools to all pupils based on merit not money as demonstrated by our successful Open Access scheme, as well as support for highly able students in state schools.”

Key Findings:

School backgrounds:
• Ten leading independent schools accounted for 12% of the leading people for which schools data was available. These are: Eton College; Winchester College; Charterhouse School; Rugby School; Westminster School; Marlborough College; Dulwich College; Harrow School; St Paul’s Boys’ School; Wellington College (see table 1 for top 100 schools).
• Eton College alone produced 330 top people – 4% of those with school information.
• The top comprehensive schools – with 6 each on the list – are Holland Park School and Haverstock School (where Ed and David Miliband both went to school). The top state grammar school (though it is now comprehensive) is Watford Grammar School with 17 former pupils.
• 44% of those listed went to independent school, 27% to grammar school, 8% to a former direct grant school and 21% to comprehensives and other state schools.
• The professions whose top people are most dominated by independent school alumni are ‘public service’ (which includes royalty, lord-lieutenants, and others in national, public, or local government organisations) 68%, followed by law at 63% and the armed services at 60%. The police are least dominated by independent schools with only 13% of leading police officers having an independent school background

University backgrounds:
• 31% of top people went to Oxbridge and a further 20% attended another leading research university in the Sutton Trust 30, but 22% did not go to university
• The profession whose top people are most dominated by Oxbridge graduates is the Diplomatic service at 62%, followed by the Law at 58%, the top civil service at 55%, education and literature at 48% and financial services or the City at 47%.
• The professions least dominated by Oxbridge graduates are pop music at 1%, sport at 8%, actors and actresses at 8%, the Police at 11% and the Armed Forces at 12%.