Photo credit:  Viktor Forgacs

Photo credit: Viktor Forgacs


‘Social mobility across the UK is low and not improving, depriving large parts of the country of opportunity’, according to a recent study by the Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission. The report, titled ‘Elitist Britain’, examined the educational backgrounds of over 5,000 top figures in 9 areas, including politics, law, journalism, business and entertainment and found that 39% had received a private school education (compared to 7% of the total population) and 24% had graduated from Oxbridge (compared to 1% of the total population).

High fees for private schools mean that the majority of those attending are from highly affluent backgrounds, as only 1% of students attending private schools have all their fees paid for by bursaries. Those educated at private schools are more likely to attend elite universities, with 8 of the top schools and colleges in the UK sending as many pupils to Oxbridge as 2,900 others put together. The report reveals a ‘pipeline’ from private schools, to Oxbridge and then to top jobs, with 52% of senior judges and 33% of newspaper columnists taking this route. Alumni from just 9 of the best performing schools in the UK are 94x more likely to reach elite positions than those from other schools, demonstrating that ‘access to some of the most prestigious, influential and well-paid roles in the country is limited to those born with advantages from the very beginning of their life’.

The report shows that the 7% of the population that attend private school and the 1% that study at Oxbridge dominate top positions across a large variety of sectors. Dame Martina Millburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission asks, ‘should this small elite have such a big say in running the country?’ and argues that ‘politicians, employers and educators all need to work together to ensure that Britain’s elite becomes more diverse in gender, ethnicity and social background. It is time to close the power gap and ensure that those at the top can relate to and represent ordinary people’.


There are a number of things that employers can do to encourage more diversity in their workforce. Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Collecting and monitoring data on the socioeconomic background of employees, in a similar way to gender and ethnicity

  • Removing financial barriers to entry, such as unpaid internships

  • Making recruitment practices open and transparent and ensuring that internships and entry level jobs in particular are openly advertised

  • Adopting contextual recruitment practices and assessing the achievements of applicants in the context of any disadvantages they have faced, such as attending an underperforming school

  • Addressing class pay gaps and differences in retention and promotion rates, as better access to jobs is only the beginning and progression within an organisation is crucial to social mobility

    This last point is particularly important, as making jobs more accessible to people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is not enough on its own. Research from the Sutton Trust and upReach found that graduates who went to private school earn an average of £4,500 more than graduates from state schools after 3 years of working. Henry Morris, founder of upReach, said the research ‘tells us that Britain’s social mobility challenge does not end on a graduate’s first day of work. Despite doing as well academically, the pay of graduates from more privileged backgrounds rises more quickly than their peers’. Explanations for this include that people from more advantaged backgrounds often have higher levels of confidence. The report recommends mentorship as one way of improving this and encouraging diverse talent.


At WERKIN, we believe that mentorship is crucial to career progression and can be a powerful tool for creating more inclusive and diverse workplaces. WERKIN’s Modern Mentorship is a tech-enabled platform that helps companies build their mentorship programmes. The importance of mentorship for career progression is well documented, as mentors can provide encouragement, advice, contacts and access to new experiences and career development opportunities. As Dame Martina Millburn states, ‘not everyone needs or wants to make it to the top, but those who wish to should get the chance to do so’. Mentorship is one of the ways employers can ensure that people get this chance, no matter what school, or socioeconomic background they come from.