Over half of perm secs attended Oxbridge, report finds

More than half of permanent secretaries attended Oxbridge, compared to less than 1% of the public as a whole, according to a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission which criticises the lack of diversity among the people running the country.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

02 Sep 2014

The report ‘Elitist Britain?’, published last week, examined who is in charge of the country and found that 57% of perm secs went to Oxford or Cambridge University (pictured); along with 75% of senior judges; 59% of the cabinet; 33% of the shadow cabinet; 24% of MPs; 50% of diplomats; 44% of public body chairs; 38% of members of the House of Lords; and 12% of the Sunday Times Rich List.

It also found that 55% of perm secs went to independent schools, along with 34% of public body CEOs; 22% of chief constables or police and crime commissioners; 22% of the shadow cabinet; but only 8% of local government CEOs.

The report states that Britain’s elite is “formed on the playing fields of independent schools”, but argues that “school type and university are imperfect markers of social background”.

It says that a lack of diversity among the people running the country is “a problem in itself”, adding that “a narrow elite suggests serious limits on adult social mobility”.

The cites a quote by Sir John Major last year: “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class.”

Alan Milburn, the chair of the commission, said: “We in the commission hope this report prompts a re-think in the institutions that have such a critical role to play in making Britain a country where success relies on aptitude and ability more than background or birth.

“To confront the challenges and seize the opportunities that Britain faces a broader range of experiences and talents need to be harnessed.

“The risk, however, is that the more a few dominate our country’s leading institutions the less likely it is that the many believe they can make a valuable contribution."

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The civil service should recruit and promote on merit. We want the best to rise to the top, irrespective of who they are or where they come from. If there are barriers preventing them from doing so, then we will look to remove them – but the best way to promote social mobility is to reform education, which is what this government is doing. 

“Figures suggest that the civil service already benefits from a more diverse talent pool than many British employers, but there is more we can do. We are expanding our Fast Track Apprenticeship scheme, bringing a new generation of talented and committed public servants straight into government from school. This is a pool of talent we can’t afford to ignore if we want to create a more modern, highly skilled civil service.”

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