Privately-educated continue to dominate the bar

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Barristers remain reluctant to reveal schooling background, BSB report suggests

Wig barristers

The bar is still largely dominated by barristers who went to fee-paying schools, new stats show.

As part of the Bar Standard Board’s (BSB) latest diversity report, barristers were asked what type of school they attended. Of those who responded, around one-third (33%) said they attended a fee-paying school.

However, it would appear there remains a reluctance among barristers to divulge their schooling background. Over half (53%) of the 17,015 respondents swerved the question, while 394 — who did answer — said they’d ‘prefer not to say’. Last year, 63% of the barristers declined to answer the same question.

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Operating on the assumption that those who didn’t respond attended a state school, the BSB estimates that 15.5% of practising barristers attended private schools. That’s more than double that of the United Kingdom as a whole (7%).

BSB director of strategy and policy Ewen MacLeod said:

“The more accessible the bar is, the better it is able to represent the society it serves. Equality and diversity are priorities for us as a regulator and the data shows that there was a steady improvement in gender and ethnic diversity at the bar during 2018. But, we are aware that more needs to be done. We urge all barristers to complete the diversity data questions when renewing their practising certificates for the year ahead. This will enable us to act on accurate evidence to improve diversity.”

Elsewhere, the percentage of practising barristers who identify as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) currently sits at 13%, up ever so slightly on last year’s 12.7%, while the number of women at the bar remains relatively unchanged at 37%. The percentage of female QCs rose from 14.8% to 15.8%.

The gender and ethnic diversity of pupil barristers is roughly in line with the population of England and Wales, with 50.4% of pupils being female and 16.3% BAME.

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I do not understand why any barrister fills in this survey.

The data is only ever used to spread negative messages about the Bar or to increase the amount of money wasted by the BSB.

If you think it helps young people, then think again. Nothing has a more serious negative impact on them that these endless stories that tell them to not even bother trying.

Don’t fill it in, you’ll help no one.



The demographic of the Bar is quite poor, so I’m not surprised the data is used to spread negative messages. The data paints a negative picture.

We shouldn’t strain to make the bar more socially representative to the detriment of quality, but it’s pretty obvious that the Bar has representation problems.

The fact that the constituent members of the Bar are so reluctant to publish this isn’t exactly a good look.



Here’s a comment I made to a virtually identical article LC made two years ago. It still seems applicable…

“One ought always to expect a higher percentage of privately educated people in the higher echelons of the professions – even in a wholly meritocratic society.

For one, a very large number of private schools (the majority, even?) have entrance exams. This means that right from the off, regardless of wealth and privilege, their intake can be expected to be of a much higher calibre than that of (non-grammar) state schools.

Secondly, sending one’s children to private school says much about the aspiration and ethos of the parents. If one set of parents forks out a significant portion of their income on their child’s education, it is reasonable to infer that their household puts a greater emphasis on education and educational attainment than others. In turn, one would expect the same aspiration and work ethic to rub off on the children.

There will of course always be a few households for which school fees are insignificant, and equally there will always be a very large number of households for which private school fees are (literally) unaffordable. However, there is a significant grey band amongst the lower-middle classes for which school fees are (virtually) unaffordable, and yet the parents choose to send their children to private school anyway.

Thirdly, to be able to afford to send one’s children to private school says something about the educational attainment of the parents. Generally, it is perfectly reasonable to expect the sons and daughters of barristers, doctors and business leaders to be blessed with greater innate intelligence than the sons and daughters of gardeners, nurses and security guards.

Relatedly, when the son or daughter of a blue collar worker does find their way into a private school, it will often be the result of generous merit-based scholarships, skewing the ability of privately educated pupils versus state school pupils even further.

Finally, the teaching and opportunities in private schools tend to be better than in state schools. Behaviour management especially, for a whole host of reasons, is far better in private schools than in state schools, and this significantly impacts the educational opportunities available to students. If Pupil A spends 13 years receiving a first class education, and Pupil B spends 13 years receiving a passable education in a mediocre state school, this will have a plastic effect on their development; even if Pupil B had greater natural born ability, by the time they reach 18 it is perfectly possible that Pupil A will by that stage have an irreversible advantage in terms of his skills, learning and cognitive abilities.”



Have you considered that parents who can afford to send their children to fee-paying schools choose not to? State schools expose their pupils to the wide range of society. Barristers need to be able to deal with and relate to a variety of different members of society, which you couldn’t teach in a rather sheltered, insular private school. Whilst I accept the argument about quality facilities and focused teaching at private schools, education is more well-rounded than that. It is highly ignorant to come to the conclusion that parents care more about education because they pay for it.



The implication that you need to go to school with, presumably, poor people in order to understand or represent them is strange. I went to a decent public school, and I have managed to make friends with people from very different backgrounds. If anything, a good school teaches you to understand that you are privileged, and teaches you basic manners and politeness – it doesn’t really matter if it is state or private.

Whether or not you need to have the capability to “relate” to every strata of society depends on what sort of practice you have, surely. I would imagine that legal aid/family/criminal barristers might need to have empathy, but in more commercial chambers, it would be fair to say that I have never felt disadvantaged by my background amongst my client base.


Yes, I have considered this.

I don’t accept that my view is ‘highly ignorant’.


It’s a fair point, but those extol the benefits of state school diversity are often the ones sending their own children to private school.

As someone said/wrote – you don’t muck about when it’s your own kids.


Exactly. The Bar is now so obsessed with self-flagellating anxieties about this that it does not realise that it is sending contradictory messages.

The pronouncements of any Chairman (oops, sorry, Chair) of the Bar these days are heavily focused on (i) diversity and how terrible the Bar is at it and (ii) public funding and how terrible life is for barristers in crime and family law. If the Bar is “dominated” by the privately educated, this implies that a good number of the privately educated are earning very low fees doing crime and family law (barristers in those fields “dominate” the Bar in terms of numbers). The relentless attack on those who have put their advantaged start in life to the service of the disadvantaged needs to stop, and if conditions for most barristers are so terrible, is it any surprise that those from poor backgrounds are dissuaded from trying? If getting a degree has been a financial struggle, why would you want to join a profession whose leaders proclaim that you will probably be signing on for a lifetime of financial insecurity? You would look for other professional outlets.



How is reporting a census accurately “spreading a negative message”? What a sinister attitude.



The results of the census are negative, therefore we must suppress the results.


Family Law Barrister

Absolute nonsense. There needs to be a conversation about how elitist the bar is. I am a state educated barrister and these stats did not put me off at all. They disappointed me and galvanised me.

People don’t answer because they are unwilling to accept that their career is as a result of privledge. I would say talent makes up only a small part of the reason I am at the bar. I am at the bar because I am a straight white able bodied woman with all the privileges that come with that.

The sooner people accept their good fortune has nothing to do with what intelligent legends they are, the better.


So what ?

“People don’t answer because they are unwilling to accept that their career is as a result of privledge”.

So let’s say it is due to privilege so what ? Inequality is the price for a free society. Unless one longs for a totalitarian hell.

No one is entitled to anymore than basic shelter food and clothing. The rest is on you.

“The sooner people accept their good fortune has nothing to do with what intelligent legends they are, the better”.

OK acknowledged. So now what ? Off to the killing fields ?


Family Law Barrister

‘The rest is on you’ – yeah if you could choose where you’re born, when you are born, the class you are born into, the wealth you are born into, the body you are born into, your parents, your IQ, your mental health, your physical health.

My point is not ‘death to the rich’ as you appear to have misread it. My point is we as a society could do more to make things fairer and broaden opportunities for all. You can’t argue with that.


Family Law Barrister (again)

‘The rest is on you’ – yeah if you could choose where you’re born, when you are born, the class you are born into, the wealth you are born into, the body you are born into, your parents, your IQ, your mental health, your physical health.

My point is not ‘death to the rich’ as you appear to have misread it. My point is we as a society could do more to make things fairer and broaden opportunities for all. You can’t argue with that.


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I don’t know why people bother with the Bar.

All that responsibility for none of the pay.

Solicitor is the way to go.



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This is too true. One of the five elite public schools in England, followed by Oxbridge, is not a prerequisite for the Bar.

There are plenty of equally talented students that do not gain access because of limited financial means. Scholarships do not address this problem – mainly because they are given to students who have followed the above route.



Of the people I’ve met who held Inn scholarships one out of fifty went to one of the schools you’re talking about. Many of the recipients couldn’t afford the BPTC fees without their scholarships.

Most Inn scholarships are means tested, so those with wealthy families don’t get much money anyway. The funding system is broken, but it’s very unfair to suggest that the scholarships are the problem rather than an admittedly ineffective sticking plaster.



The vast majority of those attending private schools and Oxbridge receive scholarships.







I have to say when I received my named scholarship from my Inn (one which was not means tested) I think I might have actually been only one of two scholars who did not go to a private school.

Anecdotal evidence.


Many list the school that they attended the and the scholarships that they received in their public profile. There is direct correlation between the two.

Published evidence.


How is this assertion evidence?


Which are the 5 elite public schools, just as a matter of interest?


Steven Seagull

I think there are traditionally more like 10 – they include Eaton, Harrow, Wellington, Winchester, Charterhouse, etc.



Actually, there is a point here: there are “private” schools i.e. schools where you pay your money for your education. Yes, parents have a little more control, but they hardly dominate the heights of the professions. Popular consciousness has never really heard of these schools, yet they represent the vast majority of the privately-educated. The reality is that very often, people are sent to such schools as they fail to get into the decent local state/grammar schools. I am not sure they offer any particular advantage, but carry all the disadvantages of being “privately educated”.

The bogeyman that everyone really wants to attack are the public schools, the most prominent of which are the Victorian “Great Twelve”. These schools make up a small proportion of private education, but are dominant in the City and the professions. They do so because they are excellent at what they do: educating, and preparing for university and working life. Rather than knock institutions which have been successful for centuries, perhaps our education debates should focus on emulating such schools – if you really want to make private education unnecessary, you need to make it unnecessary.



You’d need the largest magic money tree in the world to emulate public school education in comprehensives. It’s nothing more than naive wishful thinking. Schools are overburdened and underfunded, you can’t ever expect to improve comprehensive education to the point where public schools seem unnecessary because there’ll always be class sizes of 40, inadequate funding for extracurriculars and certain classes, etc.


In which case, isn’t the solution to make private education more attractive to take children out of overfull classrooms? If you up tax or make private education unattractive, the burden on the state increases. The middle classes still secure benefits and advantage through tutoring and extra curriculars.

Moreover, there are things every school can do to improve and compete. My wife attended a comp which got more students into Oxbridge than my very expensive public school. It isn’t just about money.


The only way to make private education more attractive (read: likely or even possible) for the average person is to drastically lower the cost of it.

Guess what happens to private education if prices lower and attendance increases?


More schools are founded as the market, moving like an invisible hand, finds the balance between supply and demand?

I did economics at school, innit.


Glib, fanciful, even sneering and supercilious in tone.

2/10 – must try harder

BoJo's Old Etonian Buddy

One assumes you didn’t go to ‘Eaton’.


Kestrel Selby-Body

The focus should be on getting people interested in the Law and the Bar, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. State school students simply don’t think they are fit for the job/habitus of the Bar and that’s why they are disproportionately unrepresented.



Your intentions are admirable, but this kind of thinking can cause serious problems.
There are many worthy initiatives out there around encouraging kids of all backgrounds to go to the bar. Sadly, these schemes can convince people from disadvantaged backgrounds with poor grades (and therefore no hope of pupillage) to go for the bar. People with poor grades from wealthier backgrounds are more likely to get the sensible advice to stay away from the BPTC without at least a good 2:1.



I like the way you make the (not even subtly) implied connection between poor grades with people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This is exactly the attitude that has led to this situation.


The Court of Pie Powders

Erm, how does overrepresented minority = profession ‘dominated by’ that group? If Asian people were overrepresented at the bar would then mean the professions was ‘dominated’ by them??


Mr. Charles

These kind of statistics are useless. Where more than 50% of a limited sample size don’t answer, drawing a conclusion as bold as the title of this article, is fundamentally flawed.



Not quite useless as the privately educated are overrepresented even assuming those who failed to respond are not. Pretty striking.


Not the Droid you are looking for

But in isolation, is this statistic meaningful?
For example, how does it compare to medical consultants or similar professions?
It’s not entirely surprising that a profession which prizes confidence and articulacy has a large slice of privately-educated members, is it?
The imbalances in society cannot be solved by the Bar Council.



Force the fvckers to answer next time.

We’ve already seen with some replies how clueless some are as to the importance of widening access. They won’t answer unless made to.



Wait a minute so the privately educated get the scholarships when they don’t even have the need to? Disgraceful



the bar is dying out



Let us know if you still think that when you complete your training contract and your client demands proper counsel.



How does 16% equate to a dominating position?



“Operating on the assumption that those who didn’t respond attended a state school” WTF why on earth would they make that assumption?

I would assume those who don’t respond attend private school.


Reality Check

The bar is incredibly diverse already.

I didnt go to a first XI public school for example.

And there are plenty of state school types as well as other groups. And its growing



As if.


Lord Harley of Counsel

This explains why I was victimised.

I am just a humble lad of Irish descent who grew up in Rochdale.

My vast intelligence had them worried so that they ganged up on me and had me struck off out of jealousy.

Cockwombles all of them.



The most important sentence in that article is this:

“The gender and ethnic diversity of pupil barristers is roughly in line with the population of England and Wales, with 50.4% of pupils being female and 16.3% BAME.”

In light of that sentence, I have no concerns about diversity. Clearly the future bar is set to be in line with the diversity of the UK. It’s time to stop focusing on gender and ethnicity and focus on the best person for the job getting the job – whether they’re male or female, or white or BAME.



It means gender and ethnicity are not the main discriminatory factors. Social class is



Except that these stats indicate 15.5% of the bar has come from private education… ie 84.5% from state funded education.

So ethnicity, sex and social class seem not to be a bar to those good enough to enter the profession. This is a good news story.



There are plenty of middle class people who receive state funded education, so the 84.5% statistic doesn’t indicate much about class. Even from my experience in private practice, while diversity is on the rise the majority of females and people from BAME backgrounds moving up the ranks come from middle class backgrounds. I can hazard a guess and say that this is also happening at the Bar.

More of the same really.



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So the best educated people tend to dominate a profession known for its intellectual rigour.

Hardly a surprise.


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The problem with state schools is that they churn out chippy, gauche, badly educated people. Little wonder that such people do not tend to dominate the professions or positions of responsibility generally.


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