The proportion of senior judges who went to a comprehensive school has trebled since 2014 - but the group remains the most socially exclusive of all professions, according to a landmark study of social inclusion published today.
Working together for the first time, the government-created Social Mobility Commission and the Sutton Trust, an education charity, examined more than 6,000 individuals at the top of the country's elite professions. Their report, Elitist Britain, shows that 65% of senior judges were educated at an independent school; 75% attended Oxford or Cambridge. The report describes judges as the 'most socially exclusive groups of all the professions examined here'.
Second highest for independent school attendance was permanent secretaries (59%).
The number of privately-educated senior judges has fallen by six percentage points since 2014, but the report says the 65% figure is still 10 times higher than the proportion of the population who attend independent schools. The proportion of senior judges who went to a comprehensive school has risen from 4% in 2014 to 13% now, a significant jump 'albeit from an extremely low bar'.
The report says age is a reason why the judiciary is heavily dominated by private school and Oxbridge alumni, 'reflecting patterns of entry into the profession from several decades ago, and the absence of term limits means the pace of change is slow'. It also states that most judges are barristers.
Former City lawyer Mouhssin Ismail, now the principal of a sixth form centre, features as a case study. Ismail attended a state comprehensive in east London. He said he 'began to realise there are few lawyers who worked for high-profile City firms that came from a similar background to mine. It also became apparent there was a difference in the quality of my "education", which at times led me to question whether I actually "fitted in". In particular, my affluent peers had an appreciation of the arts, fine dining and theatre which I had not been exposed to as a young person'.
Dame Martina Milburn, chair of the commission, said the report shows that little has changed at the top. 'Decision makers in government, business and the judiciary are still dominated by the 7% of the population who are educated privately and the 1% who go to Oxford or Cambridge University. But should this small elite have such a big say in running the country?'
The judiciary has acknowledged that more needs to be done to recruit from the broadest pool of talent. A pre-application judicial education programme was unveiled this year, giving priority to solicitors and other underrepresented groups to participate in judge-led discussions. Meanwhile, several leading City and international firms have signed up to an online recruitment tool designed to open up the profession to candidates from 'low participation' schools.