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Chances of reaching the top 'very much greater' if you go to independent school

Published 24/02/2016

Two thirds of British Oscar winners were privately educated - such as Eddie Redmayne, a former Eton pupil
Two thirds of British Oscar winners were privately educated - such as Eddie Redmayne, a former Eton pupil

Top British actors are more than twice as likely to have attended private school than stars in the music industry, a study has found.

It also reveals that the UK is still overwhelmingly run by privately-educated Oxbridge graduates, who dominate professions including politics, journalism, the military and the law.

The Sutton Trust, which published the research, said the findings show that a child's chances of reaching the top in British life still depend heavily on their schooling and their family's contacts and called for more to be done to open up fee-paying schools to all youngsters, rather than just those whose parents can afford to pay.

Researchers looked at the educational backgrounds of more than 1,200 people, working in high-level jobs 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 an independent school, compared to around a fifth (19%) of those who have won a Brit music award.

In addition, two thirds (67%) of British Oscar winners were privately educated - such as Eddie Redmayne, a former Eton pupil, and Kate Winslet, who studied at Redroofs Theatre School.

The successful state-funded BRIT school in Croydon, which counts Adele and Jessie J among its former pupils, may be one reason why the proportion of state-educated top music stars is higher, the Sutton Trust said.

The study also found that three quarters (74%) of the UK's top judges went to a fee-paying school, and nearly eight in 10 (78%) went on to Oxford or Cambridge.

Among top military personnel, seven in 10 (71%) came from the private sector, although just 14% were Oxbridge educated, while around half of leading print journalists and solicitors (51% each) were taught at fee-paying schools.

Just over half (54%) of these journalists attended Oxford or Cambridge, along with 55% of solicitors and 51% of the senior civil servants included in the study.

In politics, half of the Cabinet were privately educated, - including old Etonian Prime Minister David Cameron - compared to 13% of the shadow cabinet, and around a third (32%) of MPs.

The current Cabinet does have fewer former independent school pupils than the coalition government Cabinet of 2010, the report notes, but slightly higher than Tony Blair's post-election Cabinet in 2005.

Just under half (47%) of the current Cabinet are Oxbridge graduates, along with 32% of the shadow cabinet.

"The top of many of the UK's most prestigious professions remain disproportionately constituted by those with elite educational and socio-economic backgrounds," the study concluded.

Sutton Trust research fellow Dr Philip Kirby, who conducted the study, said: " Young people from more advantaged backgrounds often have broader professional social networks, which can be used to access certain jobs, as well as parents who might be more able to support them through unpaid internships, which are increasingly important for career development."

Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl 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 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."

A Department for Education spokesman said 1.4 million more children are being taught in good or outstanding state schools compared to 2010 and that university entrants are at an all-time high, with more disadvantaged youngsters going on to study for a degree.

"We are determined to spread this educational excellence everywhere, extending true social mobility for all," he said.

"We are continuing the pupil premium at current rates for the duration of this parliament, providing billions of pounds to support disadvantaged pupils reach their potential."

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