Work hard, go to university, and get a good job. The equation sounds simple enough, and is one that has been passed down generation after generation by teachers and parents alike. However, a look at the statistics shows that things are not quite as simple as they first seem. If you want a top job then going to university may not be enough – in fact, it seems that the odds may already be stacked against you! When it comes to making it to the top in Britain, where you studied may be at least as important as the grades you get.
A recent survey by the Sutton Trust revealed that those people who were privately educated still dominate the top jobs in professions such as law, politics, medicine, and journalism. The Sutton Trust is an educational charity that has been undertaking surveys for over a decade, and while they noted some small improvements, it seems that success is still firmly weighted towards those who were privately educated.
Despite 88% of the population being educated in comprehensive schools, just one in five of leading print journalists came from this background. In fact, over half of them went to independent schools, and things don’t get much better when we look at other professions either!
The Sutton Trust reported that 71% of top military officers, 74% of top high court judges, and 61% of doctors were all privately educated – despite just 7% of the population going to independent fee-paying schools.
Politics shows a similar picture, with 32% of MPs coming from private education – although when it comes to the cabinet, this figure rises to over 50%, as compared to 13% of the shadow cabinet.
The discrepancies continue when looking at university education, showing that not all university degrees are equal. Oxford and Cambridge seem to be the best places to study if you want a top job, since 74% of top judges, 54% of top journalists, and 47% of the cabinet went to Oxbridge, despite the two universities educating what amounts to less than 1% of the population.
While some degrees certainly lead to employment in a related field, it seems that there is still work to be done to ensure greater equality of opportunity. However, it seems that an independent schooling may also offer students social skills that help them get ahead too.
Sir Peter Lampl, chair of the Sutton Trust, 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 teamwork, which are vital to career success.”
He also noted that money played a real part, as he added, “The key to improving social mobility at the top is to open up independent schools to all pupils based on merit not money ... as well as support for highly able students in state schools.”
For some this weighting towards private education for the top jobs won’t matter, since they may see money as less important than the actual career. However, there is a clear case for more work to be done to ensure better representation for those from poorer backgrounds.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, stated, “Once again the Sutton Trust has shown that not all professions are representative of the country at large, something school leaders will read with interest. Schools are engines of social mobility, showing that through hard work and application, all pupils can aspire to fulfil their potential, whatever that may be.”
At least, it seems, that is the goal… It all makes us wonder if you might be better off looking for an apprenticeship instead?