Meritocracy is one of society’s most powerful myths. It is comforting to believe we live in a fair world where people are rewarded for a mixture of talent and effort. But Britain remains an elitist country in which a socially stratified education system funnels those born to privilege into the highest-status jobs, while holding back children born to parents who have never benefited from such opportunities.
So Keir Starmer’s pledge to remove the charitable status of private schools, and requiring them to charge VAT on fees, is a welcome move. Just 7% of children attend private schools. Yet privately educated young people make up almost one in three undergraduates at the country’s most selective universities. In the jobs market, the figures are even worse: seven out of 10 members of the judiciary were privately educated as were six out of 10 civil service permanent secretaries, more than half of diplomats and more than four in 10 senior media editors. This is not a product simply of their raw ability, but also of the vast resources that go into their education, the social connections and favours it opens up and the other forms of cultural capital it endows.