A recent study has called the UK “deeply elitist” and suggested that many top roles remain closed off to all but a select few from privileged backgrounds. Senior judges led the way in lacking diversity.
The study, carried out by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, examined the backgrounds of over 4,000 people in high-flying positions. Those who fell under the scope of the study included business professionals, prominent figures in the media industry, politicians and important public sector figures. The study found that a hugely disproportionate number of positions were held by a small, elite group who had been privately educated and/or attended Oxbridge.
The findings held true across the board, 36% of the cabinet, 55% of high-level civil servants and 62% of senior officers in the armed forces were privately-educated at independent schools such as Eton and Harrow. However, senior judges were the single group which was most decidedly dominated by those from privileged backgrounds. A full 71% of senior judges were privately educated at prestigious fee-paying schools, and 75% hold degrees from either Oxford or Cambridge.
In the UK population as a whole, only 7% of people have been privately educated, meaning that even the lowest of these figures seems massively disproportionate. In the case of senior judges specifically, the proportion of individuals who were privately educated is more than ten times that found in the country as a whole. The disparity between the proportions of Oxbridge graduates in the UK population and the ranks of senior judges is even more apparent. Three quarters of senior judges hold an Oxbridge degree, compared to less than 1% of the UK population.
In the report, which the Commission claims is among the most detailed examinations of this matter to date, this disparity is described as “elitism so stark that it could be called social engineering.”
According to Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, these findings should be a “wake-up call” to the government and to educational bodies such as schools and universities. Milburn said that “the institutions that matter appear to be a cosy club,” on account of the fact that the top jobs are still “disproportionately held by people from a narrow range of backgrounds.”
However, some have taken issue with the conclusions of the reports. Sir Anthony Seldon, master of Berkshire’s Wellington College, insists that private schools are “part of the solution not the root of the problem.” He points out that the state schools that are performing well tend to be dominated by the middle classes, and believes that the key is to make quality education accessible to children from a wider range of backgrounds through scholarships and bursaries.