The Provost of Eton College has threatened to quit the Conservatives over a policy that could see civil service employers ask job applicants whether they went to private school.
Lord Waldegrave of North Hill told the government’s chief whip that he would stop sitting as a Tory peer if the scheme – set out in a Cabinet Office consultation earlier this month – was implemented.
Minister Matt Hancock has published a series of questions the civil service could ask potential applicants, in a bid to shed more light on their socio-economic background.
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The civil service is expected to be one of the first employers to use the checklist, which could also include asking about the postcode an individual lived in at a young age, whether they have received school meals, and whether they have ever had refugee or asylum status, in the hope it will become a “national standard”,
But Lord Waldegrave, who served in the Cabinet from 1990 to 1997, said the policy amounted to “actively seeking to damage” independent schools.
“Fundamentally I think it quite wrong to punish children for decisions taken by their parents, and to run the risk of choosing crucial public service jobs not on the basis of merit but of social engineering," he told the Telegraph.
Lord Waldegrave added: "I have told the chief whip in the Lords that I do not see how I could continue to accept the whip if I believed that the government was actively seeking to damage the charitable school of which I am a trustee, and the many other schools like it which are meeting the justifiable demands of the Charity Commission to help the wider community."
A spokesman for Hancock stressed that the government was not looking to impose the measures in law.
He said: "We are committed to increasing social mobility, and building a civil service that represents the country that it serves.
"The proposals to measure social background are part of a broad consultation, done alongside other employers, and no legislation is being proposed."
According to the Cabinet Office's consultation, the civil service could begin using the new measures in the next twelve months.
The plan was drawn up in response to research carried out by the Bridge Group consultancy, which found that the government's flagship graduate scheme, the Fast Stream, had an intake that was "unrepresentative of the population at large", and less diverse in socio-economic terms than the student population of Oxford University.
The consultation says: "Continuing to improve the capability and talent of the civil service is vital to deliver the commitments of government.
"The civil service workforce should reflect the diversity of the communities it serves, with the civil service at the heart of the efforts to create a one-nation higher education and professional employment system. Access to top jobs and the best universities should be fair and based on aptitude and ability, not background or birth."