Which schools make us rich?

By Valentina Magri


Money makes Brits happy, but what helps make Brits money?

Schooling plays a pivotal role in earning a good income later in life. Better educated people enjoy better jobs and are more likely to take up managerial posts, but there are some schools that are more suited to helping you achieve this goal.

A new report released by Sutton Trust, based on data analysis by the Social Market Foundation (SMF), has identified an imbalance in the way UK schools perform. In a market that should be equitably distributed amongst our nation’s youth, there are some disturbing findings that prove, quite out of the control of the children, that there’s no such thing as an even start in Britain.

Which are the “right” schools?

The Sutton Trust study finds that children attending independent schools (7.2 per cent of youngsters) will earn on average £194,000 more than their peers during their early career (between 26 and 42 year old). In detail, someone who attended an independent school earns on average 43 per cent more per hour at the age of 34; 35 per cent more at the age of 38 and 34 per cent more at the age of 42.

This advantage is partly due to the privileged background of children attending one of the 2,500 British independent schools. But after taking into account family background and early educational achievements, there remains an independent school wage premium of almost £60,000.

According to the report, children that attend independent public schools are more likely to progress on average than their state school counterparts. Indeed, the gap between independent schools students and those attending state schools in the UK is one of the highest in the OECD area. What’s more, independent schools pupils are more likely to get good grades and degrees and to attend top universities: they are 55 times more likely to go to Oxbridge than other students and they enjoy access to better networks and top jobs.

The Milburn State of the Nation report highlights that independent schools alumni have been better able to take advantage of the expansion in managerial and professional roles. The Sutton Trust report calculates that they are over a third of MPs; nearly one quarter of university vice-chancellors, over half of senior medical consultants, FTSE CEOs and top journalists, over two-thirds of High Court judges.

Is independent school wage premium a problem?

Sutton Trust research shows that the vast majority of people attending independent schools come from wealthy backgrounds. The reason is simple: independent schools have very high fees (£12,582 for day pupils and £28,500 for boarders). Average fees for day schools increased by 83 per cent in real terms between 1992 and 2008, while the median disposable income rose by 18 per cent in the same period.

It is not a problem of “wrong perceptions” towards independent schools by lower-income families. The superior quality of independent schools is recognised by 68 per cent of people and 57 per cent of parents would send their children in these schools if they could afford it. But recent polling shows that just over 12 per cent of parents in social class A have their oldest school child attending independent school; they are just one per cent in social grades C2 and D. This fact is a serious problem, since it limits meritocracy and prompts inequality.

How to tackle this problem?

You may be tempted to say, ‘that’s life’, but there are solutions. The Sutton Trust explores three possible alternatives which must be explored further:

• Sutton Trust Open Access Scheme: it is a State-backed scheme designed to wide access to independent day schools, with means-tested fees; according to estimates, applying this scheme to 62,000 pupils would cost just £215 million per year to the English Government;

• The Belvedere School pilot: this scheme meet the same goal, but it funded by philanthropic donations;

• Parents-based voluntary schemes: wealthier parents cross-subsidise the scheme for low-income families.

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