Social mobility fail: two thirds of top judges went to private schools

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Senior judges ‘most socially exclusive’ group among Britain’s elite, Sutton Trust research finds

Two thirds of top judges went to private schools, according to a new report by a social mobility charity.

The Sutton Trust found that 65% of the most senior judges in England and Wales went to an “independent school” — more than any other elite profession it looked at. Only 7% of the general population was privately educated.

That means that their lord and ladyships were nine times more likely to go to a fee-paying school than the average punter.

The bench is changing, albeit slowly. The share of top judges that had attended a comprehensive school rose from 4% in 2014 to 13% in 2019. The rest went to grammar schools (20%), overseas schools (2%) or private schools in the UK (65%).

The 65% figure for privately educated judges compares to 71% in 2014 and 75% in 2004.

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The Sutton Trust notes that change is slow partly because of “the age of those holding such positions, reflecting patterns of entry into the profession from several decades ago”. But it says that “there remain many barriers for individuals aspiring to these roles”, with barristers — who often become judges in turn — still pretty posh.

It also mentions internships: previous research found that legal internships have some of the lowest levels of open advertisement around, with personal contacts still vital to secure placements.

Senior judges are “the most socially exclusive groups of all the professions examined”, the Elitist Britain 2019 report says, with the highest numbers of both independent school (65%) and Oxbridge alumni (71%). Over half went to both private school and then Oxford or Cambridge.

The judges covered by the analysis are the 140 on the UK Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Court. Scotland and Northern Ireland are not included.

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Why is this a fail? Best person for the job, gets the job..?


Scep Tick

Trouble is we don’t know if that’s the case. Someone who gets AAA at A level in Tower Hamlets is probably a better prospect than someone who gets A*AA at Eton but the latter is objectively the more successful candidate.



The market for private tuition in London (where the majority of privately educated pupils are) is enormous.

After intensively prepping children for entrance exams, I know tutors who are paid each week to literally dictate the answers to the child’s homework and coursework assignments. This is done mainly to stop the kids pestering their parents for help.

These are children at the ‘big name’ London public schools too. Please don’t ever think private education = intelligence.



I’m privately educated. I know full well paying school fees does not = intelligence.

School fees are also so expensive in London that most kids in the classes don’t have parents who were born in the UK. Many are from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Nigeria and the UAE.

As to boarding schools? Eton and Winchester are the only ones with real entrance tests.

All the others are so desperate to survive, they will literally pretty much take the children of absolutely anyone who can afford the £30k in fees each year. Go on an Open Day and tell me if the ‘smartest kids in the UK’ are really in these schools.



11.55. For the bulk of many of the public schools you may have some point, but the very best of the best are what matter for the figures looked at by these lefty whingers. The cream of the public school system, be they the offspring of intelligent well-breed fee paying parents, intelligence being largely hereditary, or a bright scholarship kid from the rougher classes, are the very best England has to offer. Has always been so, and for good reason, will always be so.



Anon at 1:09, by all means scrimp and save to put your money aside for boarding school fees so your child can be amongst “the very best England has to offer”.

This is not the time of Evelyn Waugh; fewer English people can afford the ever-rising fees. They aren’t likely to stop rising anytime soon.

You are going to be in for a massive shock when the rest of the class who grew up in China, the Caucus, Singapore, Dubai, Monaco, Beverly Hills or Moscow might laugh at your child for being the only person without a motor yacht and who’s parents need to wake up before 10am to go and work for someone else.



This is really funny. Parents paid a fortune for a triggered, privately-educated lawyer to sit there downvoting a comment they didn’t like on the internet, 80 times.

So many hardworking private tutors, teachers, career advisers and family to thank for where you are today.

Privately educated clearly doesn’t equal emotional intelligence or stability either.



Anonymous 9:33, think you’ll find that most professionals being treated in private hospitals/rehabilitation facilities for alcohol/drug abuse were privately educated. An NHS psychiatric ward isn’t fun.

I know one tutor who was asked to visit The Priory everyday over the Easter Break to prepare a student for her GCSE exams. She was one of many, many anorexics in her year group at a leading private girls’ school.

It is in fact the privately educated who become the most chippy when they realise no women or colleagues in the real world care where they went to school. State students can usually talk to anyone.

There is irony too in that the wealthiest Arabs/Chinese/Russians/etc. who have thousands working underneath them in the UK (including lawyers at long hours) never went to English private schools themselves.

You aren’t ‘special’ simply because your parents have a little more money than most. Feelings are not facts. Trust me on this.


I tutored in London to earn before starting the BPTC and also have to disagree about privately educated children being ‘smarter’. I’ve seen them and was kept so busy with clients that I ended up earned over £45,000 a year. There was never a shortage of work.

The kids are spoon-fed for entry exams for private schools to the point where I would be seeing them every single day over the Christmas break before the 11+ in January. Parents were personally chasing down retired teachers who used to write exam papers to find out what topics would come up in the Common Entrance tests that year for boarding school entry.

I was once flown to the Middle East for the purposes of teaching a 10 year old six hours a day, six days a week over the summer to bring her English levels up until she took her test for the parents’ preferred London private school, which ultimately she didn’t pass. I had warned the mother her daughter was nowhere near the standard, but the mother was fixated on the school only because so many of her friends in banking had sent their children there.

For many of the teenage boys I taught, they physically would not open a book for GCSE revision unless someone else was in the room with them to make sure the book was opened and looked at.

I had six year olds who couldn’t read because their busy working parents hadn’t taught them phonics and 10 year olds who said “I don’t have to do my homework! I’m going to be famous on YouTube one day!”

A home-schooled A Level student took her English Literature exams this year without reading any of the set texts she picked and trying to bs me for months that she had bothered to read them. Another tutor I know physically sat with her and the laptop to dictate her History A Level coursework on the evolution of women’s rights. I got worried a week before the coursework was due when she couldn’t tell me what ‘suffrage’ meant.

I could go on. The parents aren’t paying for a better education or particularly care, they pay to keep their kids away from others. They are in no way inherently smarter. In fact, the children I saw of the busiest professionals (including QCs) needed the most help and were often the very worst behaved.

Privately educated kids like Fortnite, YouTube and Lego the same way as those from state schools. They simply get a lot more help to have concepts explained to them and are around teachers who are under incredible parental pressure to deliver results they’ve paid for.


Former Westminster School Student

Of course the rich will go to private schools and then onto Oxbridge. Nothing new here, the rich and elite will always rule the courts.



Thanks god, eh?



Phew, let’s not worry about it then!





Benny Goodman

4% went to state school in 2014! That is a remarkable statistic.


Big Diggs Higgs

Who cares? Can we please get back to talking about how much cash I make? In case you were wondering it’s a cool $10m



This is a far bigger issue than gender inequality, but much less widely reported.



Well done for pointing out the obvious. Independent schools (or public schools as they should be called) offer a far superior quality of education.

Perhaps if state run schools sorted themselves out by allowing their staff the freedom to teach properly, this wouldn’t be the case. If grammar schools were more widely spread, it’s likely that we’d see individuals from more modest backgrounds have successful careers in law too.

I’m speaking as someone who was privately educated who taught in the state sector after graduating. It was quite bleak seeing how many students are denied opportunities purely because of poor standards.



“Perhaps if state run schools sorted themselves out by allowing their staff the freedom to teach properly”

Hilariously misguided.

You mean perhaps if state schools didn’t have their budgets aggressively cut year on year they might be able to supply a standard of education even close to similar to that offered by public schools?



Of course the state sector will never have the financial advantages of the British public schools, I’m not disputing that.

But the state sector lacks the disciplinary standards that British public schools have. Furthermore, state schools are becoming far too politicised, which is handicapping them even more so.



It is not the teaching the causes the gap. There is not much difference in teaching quality between the state and private sectors. It is the quality of raw materials in class that leads to the gulf on outcomes.



For someone who apparently worked in state education, you don’t have a clue.



Just from my experience, of course I am generalising as of course I cannot say that I speak for all schools.

But at the school that I worked in, students of varying abilities would be put into the same class, which resulted in lessons often being ‘dumbed down’ in order to cater to mediocrity too. This resulted in the brighter students missing out, and thus having their own progression handicapped significantly.

Further still, given how restrictive the state sector is, a lot of individuals who would otherwise make fantastic teachers, are put off from joining the progression. As a result, schools cannot be especially selective with who they hire. The best teachers that I knew (and know) mostly have aspirations to work at, or now work at, grammar and independent schools.

I’m not going to deny that funding is not an issue, of course it is. But the swamp that is the state sector really does need to be drained in order to revitalise it. We’d then maybe start to see a true equality of opportunity.




Job requiring outstanding intellectual ability dominated by people who received the best education.

And people are surprised by this because…



Because you haven’t gotten the smartest people, you’ve gotten the richest spoon-fed people.

People are surprised by this because….
You end up with a judiciary (or politicians etc.) completely out of touch and likely not that talented.



… because at no time as a lawyer have I ever used the knowlege I gained in maths, physics and chemistry A levels 30 years ago, nor are the AAA I got at A Level at 17 in any way a measure of my current intellectual ability (or lack thereof). Law isn’t unusually difficult, certainly no more so than say medicine, where you have to know a lot as you can’t just break off and look the answer up in the White Book or quantum mechanics which is just fiendishly difficult to get your head around. But you don’t find the same percentages of privately educated people in other professions that are difficult.



“you don’t find the same percentages of privately educated people in other professions that are difficult” – yes you do, it’s just that other professions don’t indulge in masochistic self-shaming to the extent the legal profession does, and this country’s cultural bias against science means less attention is paid to it, but the data is out there if you care to look. There is research by the Sutton trust itself on the subject:

The explanation by Anon at 9:19 applies across the board – private school pupils are far more likely to take Maths, Physics an Chemistry at “A” level and more likely to have properly qualified teachers in those subjects. A teacher will be attracted to the better facilities and better pupil engagement of a class where a higher percentage are capable of understanding the subject and a well-qualified teacher in a subject with a shortage of teachers (such as Physics) will go to the most congenial/better paid environment.

Commenters here spend hours boasting about the superiority of the pay and level of work at their City firms and do not suggest their pay and support resources available to them should be cut to the level of a Legal Aid firm in the cause of social justice: why do they think the incentives and motivations of those in other occupations are any different?



I see this important issue has now been hijacked. Including Oxbridge is beyond parody – everytime a poor kid succeeds and goes there will make the Social Mobility statistics worse.

Slow hand clap.

The problem is that state schools let down their kids. Yet every single time we discuss this the topic is hijacked and we are told to randomly blame some other cause.

We will not have good state schools until we admit they are failing and demand change.



One of the main reasons state schools are failing is because the policymakers who decide on funding etc. all went to private schools. If private schools didn’t exist, state schools would get a whole lot better.



It’s not a zero sum game; both limbs are capable of co-existence, and successful co-existence at that.



But I thought that’s all the English aristocracy does…?



This comment screams privilege. It worries me to think that if I am successful in TC applications I might end up surrounded by people who think this way



No, there’s a broad mix of people at the international firm I trained at. I think privilege helps you get in the door, but ultimately performance is how you progress. I’m what you would call an ‘oik’ and that didn’t stop my former firm from offering me a training contract.



The Bar authorities do not care about social mobility. They just want to increase their beloved female and BAME percentages. There is not even record keeping of the most basic social mobility data on the judicial or QC application forms and the processes sound out judges with priority given to judges from the upper appellate tiers, which have the highest concentration of judges from the most elite public schools. The Bar Council surveys get 98% plus responses on gender and race but gets about 33% responses on the “first person to attend university” question and the commentaries on the data just glibly notes the data cannot be assessed, because it just does not care. Great times to be come from a rich background if you are a women or minority group, as you can push on through the ranks playing your joker cards, trampling over the white working class men on the way to the top. Upper class white men will be OK, they always are.



Why do people these days feel somehow entitled to jobs like these ? It won’t make them happier, and most simply aren’t equipped with the resilience or character to handle it. Professions like the judiciary are an onerous burden to be borne by the upper classes as their duty to the state; not avenues to wealth and status for ambitious but chippy working- and middle-class kids.



Yes. I know QCs who have no desire to go to the Bench because of the significant drop in income that would entail.

Being a judge is also an incredibly stressful position as you are under intense scrutiny. Your decision may be appealed and you always expected to get things ‘right’, even in matters of literal life or death.

I wouldn’t want to do it.



This is satire, right?



The intelligent make more money. Huge correlation. Intelligence is largely inherited, now we understand polygenetic influences the evidence on that is massive though the lefties want to deny it. So the children of the rich are vastly more likely to be at the upper ends of IQ distributions than the children of the poor. I do not see any problem with these percentages, they may well represent appropriate allocation of positions by intelligence and talent.



Yep. Look at all the highly inteligent football players and the towering intelect of Kim Kardashian. Intelligence doesn’t correlate particularly to earnings. Brian surgens are smart but only earn the same as a city firm NQ. University posts do not pay massive amounts of money, but there are plenty of smart people holding them.. There are a lot of very well off plumbers and plasters. Besides which, intelligence is only one factor. Proffessions generally require time and money to be invested in training and most professions involve a peroid of time at the start where you do not earn much. That is a lot easier to do if you have wealthy parents than if you do not. The Bank of Mum and Dad is more of an advantage than their genes.



…were all of the spelling errors ironic?



Nope. Its cos I can’t spell and can’t be arsed running spell check. 😉



A few counterexamples do not disprove a generalisation. *On average*, IQ correlates with income. One can of course argue about whether the correlation is causative or not. But it would be surprising if there were no causative link, no?



There is a massive correlation between income and IQ. The lower classes flock to the outlier jobs that provide massive jackpot gains for successful paritcipants such as professional soccer and pop musical performance.



But you are not just measuring the link between IQ and income in looking at average earnings. Although professionals on average earn more you are also measuring the fact that it is easier to qualify as a professional in the first place if you have financial support from someone. You would expect the IQ’s to be higher generally as intelligence is a factor, but it isn’t the only factor in whether you qualify as a professional and thus have a higher mean income. The ease with which you can afford to go to university, sink money into course fees for the necessary post-graduate courses, do unpaid internships etc are all dependant on your parent’s income rather than either your IQ or the IQs of your parents.

Not saying this is wrong. People want to help their kids. But if qualifying as a professional requires person A with a high IQ to spend 5 years plus with virtually no income and running up massive debts, but person B with an equally high IQ has parental help meaning they do not have to go through any hardship in qualifying and are taking no financial risk if they fail to qualify, then you would expect more people with wealthy parents to become professionals and therefore be over-represented in the sample of people with higher incomes regardless of intelligence.



Hmm. I’m not sure that if your general rule requires us to exclude medicine, the whole of academia (and you could add employed research scientists, NASA employees and theoretical physicists to the list as well) in terms of people who are very smart cookies but do not earn a lot of cash then are we not getting a bit “What of the Romans every done for us?” in listing all the exceptions to the general rule.

Dyson made a fortune as he patented his device. But the bloke who invented a simple method for making industrial diamonds (making billions for his employers) only got a note of thanks.

A good plasterer can make £400 to £500 a day easily out-earning a Kirkland NQ and not putting himself £50k in debt and working crazy hours to do it. Loads of people make more cash than Einstein, Plank, Heisenberg, Turing, Babbage, Vaun Brawn or Newton ever did. I’m just an ordinary run of the mill barrister. I earn more than all of the above. Doesn’t mean I’m smarter than any of the above. A semi-decent professional footballer will piss all over the earnings of a top commercial brief. So what?


Smarter than the average posh knob

That’s because you are a thicko, but have wealthy genes.



Socially exclusive snobs aren’t able to grapple with context in cases involving those outside their elite bubble. There’s a systemic bias against the underprivileged, who … never mind


I mean, duh

I feel like this is a complete non-story… there is an obvious time lag as the average age of judges is ~60.

I imagine that if you researched all serious/ well respected/ highly paid professions and checked what percentage of the senior partners/ directors etc. who are ~55-60 went to private schools, you would get a similarly high result.

The fact that the percentage is reducing quite rapidly implies that younger generations have greater social mobility but it just takes time for them to move up the ladder.

The same point could be made for current female representation at the top, but that does not necessarily mean all that much for how it may look over the next ~20 years.



Whats the point in even bothering to be a judge when you can be a white shoe NQ and then partner



Because that is the difference between those from the upper socio-economic classes and the nouveaux oiks. Money is not everything. Public service is valued more among the better bred. Can’t think of anything worse than working silly hours as a low-level employee hours drone in a US chop shop.



Wtf does “better bred” even mean. Get over yourself.



It means that you will all be disappointed to learn that your fantasies won’t become true just because you earn £100,£200k. It is not a huge amount in London. You will be living in a slightly better box, drive a slightly better car on lease and take slightly better holidays. You still won’t be able to send two kids to private school if that’s what you want if you want to have a moderate lifestyle. You will quickly get used to the moderately better lifestyle but will quickly tire of the outrageous hours and little control.

For the firms, it is a well paying sausage factory. For every 50 trainees, there will be one demented sod that loves working his fingers to the bone and will rise up to be partner. The rest of you will go in house or go West End



No one cares. They’ll do better than Hackney-educated fools.



I don’t care


Tory Toff

I had the good fortune to attend public school. My parents sent me there after I was doing poorly at my primary school. It was perhaps one of the best things that ever happened to me.

State schools in this country are absolutely woeful, run by left-wing teachers with an ever-changing syllabus and always being used as a political football by the political parties. Whilst they have improved over the last few years, they are only a Labour government away from falling back into the doldrums.

In public schools, you have the support needed, develop confidence, play a great deal of sport and, perhaps most importantly, you know that your children will not be subject to whatever fashionable theory the state wants to subject your children to.

If any of the usual commentators claiming to be Kirkland employees or “moneylaw” trainees/NQs I strongly advise that, when you have children, you spend some of your fat cheques on a public school education.



I don’t do this job so my kids can get stuck on the same shitty conveyor belt of corporate law tedium.

I’ll send them to Bedales, so they can get in some practice doing loads of drugs and shagging before living off the trust fund on a beach in Vietnam. I envy them already and they’re not even out of nappies.


Tory Toff

I am actually going to Vietnam and Cambodia this summer; I’m paying for it, unfortunately.

I’ll let you know the shagging goes.



Ahaha, very funny.



Probably at considerable financial expense.



A lot of top judges aren’t that intelligent, they’re merely privileged.



Can you provide examples?



Yes, thanks. Examples of what?



Given that privately-educated people are the best educated, and that state schools provide a poor standard of education, it would be worrying if the judiciary was not overwhelmingly comprised of those who went to private schools.


Not. Guiltay.

I’m a practising barrister (civil/family), earning 6 figs and went to a state school (from a normal/‘untraditional’ background). So what 2/3 of the judges were privately educated. Get the fook over it.


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