Independent schools ‘uneasy’ as employers urged to ask job applicants for education background

Independent schools have challenged a leading government commission after it called on employers to collect data on the educational background of job applicants.

The Independent Schools Council told Schools Week it was “uneasy” about what it described as attempts to “deselect job applicants on the basis of background”, and said companies should select the “right person for a job, regardless of background”.

The ISC’s comments have come in response to a report from the government’s Social Mobility Commission which recommended that employers in the investment banking and life sciences sector collect data on where job applicants went to school.

Alan Milburn, the former Labour MP who chairs the commission, said bright working-class children were being “systematically locked out of top jobs” in investment banking because “they may not have attended a small handful of elite universities or understand arcane culture rules”.

The report, which specifically mentions variables such as whether or not a candidate’s school was fee-paying or whether the candidate was entitled to free school meals, claims the data could be used by companies to understand why individuals from “non-privileged backgrounds” have fewer employment opportunities.

Julie Robinson, the general secretary of the ISC, said private schools had been “deservedly successful”, and that heads were uneasy about “attempts to deselect job applicants on the basis of background” when “a range of socioeconomic factors are in play”.

“Private schools operate bursary assistance to improve access, therefore school type is not a proxy for privilege,” she said. “Also, it is risky to see school type as merely a distinction between state and independent – definitions are blurred and the picture is extremely complex.”

The report has been released amid concerns that children who attend selective schools are disproportionately more likely to end up working in certain elite sectors.

Only about 14 per cent of children in England attend selective state schools and just 7 per cent attend fee-paying schools, but research by the Sutton Trust in 2014 showed that 34 per cent of new entrants to the investment banking sector over the previous three years had attended fee-paying schools, while 14 per cent had gone to selective state schools.

It is not the first organisation to propose this sort of data collection, however. A consultation process regarding a similar policy was announced earlier this year by former minister for the Cabinet Office Matthew Hancock and is still ongoing in Whitehall.

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  1. ‘School type is not a proxy for privilege’ – did she say that with a straight face? Of course it is, and always has been. The tiny proportion of bursary students is not going to overturn the fact that the overwhelming majority of students attending fee paying schools are able to do so because they come from comfortable backgrounds. And often parents are quite open about the social connections this buys them. One only has to look at the proportion of students from fee paying schools that end up at Oxbridge, become cabinet ministers, occupy well paying jobs in the city and are able to become full time Olympic athletes to realise that social mobility in this country has a very long way to go.

  2. Employers have always asked for educational details. Regrettably this info has sometimes been used wrongly – by choosing potential employees on their attendance at a ‘top’ private school, for example. Perhaps ISC uneasiness is caused more by the realisation that the old school tie network will no longer work in the way it used to.

  3. Parents of adopted or otherwise personally disadvantaged children attending Selective or Independent schools, often at great family sacrifice, are right to be very concerned at elements of Alan Milburn’s agenda which in this case amounts to discriminatory social engineering.