Media Release

Press Release: Private school premium of £194,000 revealed in new report

Children who attend private school will earn £193,700 more on average in their early careers than their state educated peers, according to a new independent report by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank which analyses the Sutton Trust’s Open Access programme.

Open Access: an independent evaluation assesses how most effectively to widen access to high performing independent schools on a needs-blind basis. It calculates for the first time the ‘wage premium’ experienced by those attending independent schools. The analysis uses newly available data to estimate that, between the ages of 26 and 42, someone who attends an independent school will earn a total of £193,700 more than someone who attends a state school. Even when factors such as family background and early educational achievement are accounted for, the wage premium persists at £57,653.

Although a range of factors play a part in determining this premium, the analysis reveals that the better educational achievement of those attending independent schools is a major contributor. The report finds students from independent schools are more likely to get good A-levels, more likely to get degrees and to attend the most selective universities. It finds that on the best available evidence – value-added scores – independent schools (on average) progress their children more during their school years than state schools.

Having established the value of private schools in terms of future opportunities, the report assesses The Sutton Trust’s ‘Open Access’ scheme, which seeks to open independent schools up to pupils from all backgrounds based on academic ability.

The proposal is that participating schools receive the same funding per pupil as local state-funded schools currently get, but also charge fees on a means-tested basis, with the poorest families paying no fees. Using the latest data on independent school fees, the researchers estimate that applying the scheme across 100 leading independent schools, covering 62,000 pupils, would cost the government around £215 million per year.

An analysis of the social backgrounds of children who score highly in standardised tests shows that selection based on merit, rather than ability to pay fees, would significantly alter the social composition of the UK’s independent schools – with places more evenly distributed across households incomes:

  • The number of children coming from the top 10 per cent of household incomes would roughly halve; and,
  • The proportion of children coming from the bottom 40 per cent of household incomes would more than double.

The report also assesses alternatives to selection by merit and measures to boost the chances of less advantaged pupils gaining places including:

  • Altering the type of examination that applicants sit to make them more open to pupils from all backgrounds.
  • Providing tailored tutorial support to those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Delivering targeted outreach to local families including confidential assistance with completing financial application forms.
  • Requiring Open Access schools to fill a minimum quota of places with those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Emran Mian, Director of the Social Market Foundation, said:

“Our research shows that pupils from independent schools do dramatically better than those who go to state school – earning an average of £194,000 more between the ages of 26 and 42. These huge differences arise in part because these children come from privileged backgrounds anyway. But that’s not the whole story. Take two people of the same ability at age 11 and with the same parental background, track them forward, and the pupil who attends independent school is likely to earn substantially more.”

“A significant driver appears to be simply that independent schools typically progress the education of pupils more during their school years than  state schools. On this basis, limiting the opportunity to attend independent schools to those who are able to afford the high fees seems inequitable.”

In response to the report, Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of The Sutton Trust said:

“This report clearly sets out the advantages that can be gained from a good private education. We need to open those opportunities to more young people, transforming the independent sector to ensure that successful day schools recruit once again on merit rather than money. Forty years ago, most of the best independent day schools in this country were open to children of all backgrounds. Today, unless your parents can find £12,500 a year after tax, access is by and large denied.”

“The stark truth is that an independent day school student is 55 times more likely to win an Oxbridge place and 22 times more likely to go to a top-ranked university than a state school student from a poor household. This is a shocking waste of potential. Open Access would transform social mobility for highly able young people from low and middle income backgrounds, giving them greater opportunities to progress to our best universities and professions.”

Commenting on the report Labour MP Ian Austin said:

“Research out earlier this week from the Social Mobility Commission demonstrated what many of us have long suspected – that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to leave secondary school as high achievers even if they outperform their wealthier peers at age 11. Much of this is down to access to the best schools, which too often remain the preserve of the richest.

“As Government statistics released last week show, the divide between state and private schools remains vast, with one in 20 private school students going on to study at Oxford or Cambridge, compared with just one in 100 from the state sector.

“The Open Access scheme offers an opportunity to bridge that gap for a significant number of able students from poor families. Allocating places on merit, rather than ability to pay, has been proven to work – increasing social mobility and the life chances of children from less advantaged backgrounds in places like Dudley. It represents a radical step towards a fairer society at a time when bold solutions to the enduring problem of entrenched advantage are required.”

Conservative MP Dominic Raab said in support of the report:

“The evidence is overwhelming that independent schools confer a massive advantage on their pupils. Rather than knocking independent schools down, we should be opening them up on a meritocratic basis. If we’re serious about establishing ladders of opportunity for the bright kid from the council estate or rural backwater, this is the way to do it.”

Notes to Editors:

  • Embargoed copies of Open Access: an independent evaluation are available on request. Please contact
  • This report is sponsored by The Sutton Trust and the SMF retains absolute editorial control over its outputs.
  • The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a leading independent UK think tank which develops innovative ideas across a broad range of economic and social policy, champions policy ideas which marry markets with social justice and takes a pro-market rather than free-market approach
  • Open Access is based on a successful pilot run at Belvedere School in Liverpool between 2000 and 2007 and has the backing of around 90 leading independent schools.

For further information about the report or to speak to its authors please contact:

Amanda Wolthuizen on 07906 778 516 or

For more information about Open Access or interviews with the Sutton Trust please contact:

Sharmini Selvarajah on 020 7802 0645 / 07951 447956 or Conor Ryan on 0207 802 1660


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