Education background of Keir Starmer’s cabinet is most representative ever of UK society

Sir Keir Starmer’s new cabinet is the most representative ever of wider UK society in terms of education, with just one having attended private school.

Labour stormed to a landslide victory in the general election on Thursday, with Sir Keir announcing the members of his new cabinet just hours after he was sworn in as prime minister on Friday afternoon.

It is the most comprehensively educated cabinet in history and the closest to representing the overall makeup of the UK, analysis suggests.


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A total of 23 cabinet ministers (92 per cent) were educated at comprehensive schools, while Sir Keir attended a grammar school and transport secretary Louise Haigh attended the private Sheffield High School, according to analysis by the Sutton Trust.

Across the UK, 88 per cent of people attend state schools.

The previous record was held by Clement Attlee’s 1945 cabinet, in which 75 per cent of ministers were not privately educated, according to the social mobility charity.

The analysis found that around 60 per cent of cabinet ministers had been privately educated since the Tories took office in 2010, except for during Theresa May’s premiership, when that proportion fell to 30 per cent. In both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak’s cabinets, just 19 per cent of ministers were comprehensively educated.

The Sutton Trust added that although the new defence secretary John Healey and Northern Ireland secretary Hilary Benn spent time in private education, most of their schooling between the ages of 11 and 16 was in comprehensive schools.

 (Chris Eades/The Sun/PA Wire)
(Chris Eades/The Sun/PA Wire)

In the new cabinet, 40 per cent studied at either Oxford or Cambridge, with Sir Keir continuing the tradition of nearly every UK prime minister since the Second World War, having studied at Oxford, which he attended for a postgraduate degree.

The one exception is Gordon Brown, who went to Edinburgh University.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday, Sir Keir said he was proud to have ministers who “didn’t have the easiest of starts in life” and reflect the “aspiration” at the heart of Britain.

The new cabinet’s educational makeup represents real progress towards “smashing the class ceiling”, said Nick Harrison, chief executive of the Sutton Trust.

“But we now need to see this cabinet deliver policies that will help tackle the barriers that are stopping many young people getting on in life. The government should seize the chance to advance social mobility and bring about a revolution in opportunity for future generations.

“There will be difficult choices ahead in this challenging economic environment, but delivering tangible change in widening opportunity will be vital to supporting social cohesion and long-term economic growth.”


More widely, the newly elected parliament is also the most representative of the UK’s schooling ever recorded, the social mobility charity found.

Of the 650 MPs elected on Thursday, 63 per cent were educated at comprehensive schools – up from just 54 per cent of those elected at the 2019 general election, and 52 per cent in 2017.

Of the 126 MPs who went to independent schools, only four went to Eton, compared to 11 in 2019.

However, the majority of the House of Commons attended a narrow range of universities. 55 per cent attended Russell Group universities, including 20 per cent who went to Oxford or Cambridge, down from 21 per cent in 2019.

The number of MPs who did not take an undergraduate degree fell to 10 per cent, down from 12 per cent in 2019.

 (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“This election represents a sea change in the education backgrounds of the governing party in the new House of Commons, with around three-quarters of labour MPs having attended comprehensive schools,” said Mr Harrison.

“This matters because people are naturally shaped by their background and life experiences, so it’s important for society that our politicians better reflect the reality of the wider population.

“However, there’s still a long way to go before the Commons is truly representative of the 88 per cent of the population who went to comprehensive schools. If parliament is to truly reflect the nation, it’s vital that more is done to enable talented people from all backgrounds to get the opportunity to become MPs.”