Election 2024

Starmer cabinet would be most comprehensively educated ever 

More than 8 in 10 members of the shadow cabinet went to comprehensive schools

More than 8 in 10 members of the shadow cabinet went to comprehensive schools

A Sir Keir Starmer cabinet would likely be the most representative of the nation in history, with more than eight in 10 shadow ministers having attended comprehensive schools.

Analysis by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust found that 84 per cent of Labour’s current shadow team attended a state comprehensive school, while 6 per cent went to grammar school. Just one in 10 were privately educated.

In England more broadly, around 90 per cent of pupils attend comprehensive schools.

Although Starmer may move some of his top team around following his expected election victory, this suggests a sea-change on previous Conservative and even Labour administrations.

The first coalition government cabinet in 2010 was 62 per cent privately educated. Of Theresa May’s first cabinet, 30 per cent went to independent schools. This proportion shot up again to almost two-thirds under Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s Labour governments saw around a third of the cabinet coming from private school backgrounds, Sutton Trust research shows. Clement Attlee’s cabinet in 1945 was 25 per cent privately educated.

All four members of Labour’s shadow education team with responsibility for some element of schools policy went to comprehensive schools.

‘A significant changing of the guard’

Writing for Schools Week this year, Public First partner Ed Dorrell said the make-up of Starmer’s top team “represents a really significant changing of the guard – a historic transformation in the way we’re governed”.

“This is a generation of young politicians who got on in life (yes, yes, mainly via Oxford) often from personal circumstances that in previous generations would have made such advancement very difficult.

Nuala Burgess
Dr Nuala Burgess

“They will all say, correctly, that they owed an enormous amount to the teachers and the teaching that they experienced at comprehensive school, a school type that is still too often maligned at the top of both media and politics.”

He said the shadow cabinet “don’t hark back to a bygone era of grammar school education or indeed fetishise the great public schools.

“Comprehensive education worked for them, and they will want it to work for even more young people.”

While the Blair government was “more or less begging the biggest independent schools” to open secondary academies, a Labour government is looking to “tax, tax, tax” the sector.

Dr Nuala Burgess, chair of the Comprehensive Future campaign group, said: “The idea that a private or grammar school education is necessary to succeed is a nonsense.

“We hope that the new shadow cabinet will fully support inclusive schools by providing the funding and policies to allow our state schools to thrive. Now, more than ever, we need a properly thought out and generously funded state education system.”

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