One in seven of society's most powerful went to these top schools

Britain’s private school elite: One in seven of those who hold the most powerful positions in society went to top ten independent schools – with Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Emily Maitlis and Susanna Reid’s alma maters leading the way

  • Study found Eton has schooled highest number of notable and influential figures
  • Researchers looked at Who’s Who directory which lists top politicians, judges, business leaders, civil servants and notable figures from a range of other areas 
  • There are more Eton entries this year than those of its competitors combined
  • Meanwhile, Reading ranked as the top of just six state schools that made the list

Whether educating prime ministers or royalty, Eton has long had a reputation as a training ground for the powerful.

And a new study quantifying the school’s impact on British society has confirmed its influence in all spheres of public life.

Eton College, whose alumni include Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Prince William, is officially the top destination for producing men who go on to make a national impact.

Eton College has topped a list of schools which educated the country’s most notable and influential figures. Its alumni include Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William

Boris Johnson is among 1,102 Eton alumni deemed influential enough to be listed in this year’s edition of the Who’s Who directory, meaning Eton has more than its competitors combined


In total, study found Eton also had 5,238 alumni listed in past editions of Who’s Who directories Pictured: Ex-Etonians Prince William (left) and former Prime Minister David Cameron (right)

Winchester College which ranked second on Keystone Tutors report into influential schools

The conclusion comes from analysis of over 66,000 entries in Who’s Who by Keystone Tutors, which found 1,102 alumni in the current edition of Who’s Who and 5,238 historical listings.

TOP TEN INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS IN WHO’S WHO BY NUMBER OF ENTRANTS 

1 Eton College, 1,102

2 Winchester College, 316

3 Harrow School, 269

4 Westminster School, 234

5 Marlborough College, 230

6 Rugby School, 214

7 Charterhouse School, 199

8 St Paul’s Boys’ School, 184

9 Ampleforth College, 178

10 Wellington College, 173

Who’s Who is a directory of Britain’s top politicians, judges, business leaders, civil servants and notable figures from the arts, academia and other areas.

The success of Old Etonians means there are more entries in this year’s edition than those of its competitors, Winchester, Harrow, Westminster and Marlborough, combined.

In total, Eton has educated 20 former prime ministers with its nearest rival in this category – Harrow – educating just seven. 

Winchester has 316 entries ahead of Harrow School (269), which is the alma mater of Sir Winston Churchill and Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Fourth is former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s alma mater Westminster School with 234 listings.

Marlborough – whose most famous old girl is the Duchess of Cambridge – is the only co-educational school to make the top five.

St Paul’s Girls School, in Hammersmith, is the highest ranked girls’ school with 73 notable alumni including Good Morning Britain presenter Susanna Reid.

Report author Will Orr-Ewing, Keystone’s founder, and an Old Harrovian, said that only one of the top ten independents – St Paul’s Boys’ – ranks as highly when it comes to A level league tables.

He said: ‘Our study suggests that academic excellence is not the primary driver in achieving great things beyond school and that a holistic, all-round education is just as important.

‘Powerful people want to pass power on to their kids and their vehicle of choice for doing so has traditionally been Eton, which keeps on renewing itself to stay relevant.’

Harrow came third on the list of schools behind the highest amount of influential people


Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Winston Churchill attended Harrow which ranked third

St Paul’s Girls School in Hammersmith, London, was ranked as the top girls’ school in the list


The former school of the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton (left) was the only the co-educational school to be listed in the top five while TV presenter Susanna Reid’s alma mater – St Paul’s Girls School – was the top girls school in the list with a total of 73 notable alumni 

Researchers noted that the top 10 schools listed seemed to ‘confirm a general national indictment that the most successful alumni happen to have attended schools almost entirely clustered around London’. 

Keystone Tutors said their report, Does Alma Still Matter?, was prompted by ambitious parents seeking other ways to assess potential schools than exam results.

Commenting on the results, Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council, said: ‘The other day I asked a very young Old Etonian MP whether he thought that his school played any part in his career choice.

‘Yes, he said – the pupils were competitive and felt pressure to do well.

Marlborough College – in Wiltshire – was the only co-educational institute in the top five

Westminster school – which educated former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg – ranked fourth

‘Yes, while at the school he had had the opportunity to hear and speak to many politicians and this helped him develop an understanding of politics and a belief that he could become an MP.

‘So I certainly think that schools which provide their pupils with a wide range of experiences beyond the classroom are more likely to identify and nurture particular talents.

‘Pupils who achieve international recognition in sport would be one obvious group, as would top military figures, musicians, writers and actors.’  

Eton has produced 24 times more high achievers than its most influential state counterpart, Reading School.

The report notes that although independent schools still dominate, the number of state schools included on the list is increasing and this year has risen by 18 per cent. 

Ranked in 76th position, Reading is one of just six state schools to make it into the top 100 for listed alumni.

Reading School is listed as the top state school, ranked 76th overall, with 46 notable alumni

TOP TEN STATE SCHOOLS IN WHO’S WHO BY NUMBER OF ENTRANTS 

76 Reading School, 46

82 King Edward VII School, Sheffield, 43

82 Cardiff School, 43

87 Aberdeen Grammar School, 41

91 Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, 40

97 Royal High School, Edinburgh, 36

102 Harrow High School, 35

107 Wimbledon College, 34

107 William Ellis School, 34

107 Lancaster Royal Grammar School, 34

 

The selective grammar school for boys boasts 46 entries, including Conservative MP Damian Green, one of former PM Theresa May’s closest allies.

Next come King Edward VII School, Sheffield – attended by BBC presenter Emily Maitlis – and Cardiff High School, each with 43 entries in joint 82nd place.

The others are Aberdeen Grammar School (41, 87th), Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe (40, 91st) and Royal High School, Edinburgh (36, 97th).

The report noted: ‘One perceptible difference between the Top 10 state and Top 10 independent schools in the UK is their geography.

‘Whilst almost all the independent entries were based in or around London, two of the Top 10 state schools were situated in Scotland.’

Will Orr-Ewing, founder of Keystone Tutors, said: ‘The analysis paints a fascinating portrait of the part UK schools play in producing the men and women who go on to make a national impact.

‘The overrepresentation of boarding schools, and the staying power of some of these institutions, shows how skilful they are at renewing themselves in the face of perpetual change, and underline why they remain the schools of choice for ambitious families from around the world.’

Mr Orr-Ewing said it was striking that the top three – Eton, Winchester and Harrow – are in a small minority where all students board – and thereby benefit from extensive extra-curricular activities.

But he said that girls and state educated pupils are increasingly upwardly mobile while private school products are judged much more on merit.

He said: ‘There was a time when if you left a top private school you would be pretty much guaranteed a place at an elite university and an elite job.

‘Now, absolutely rightly, the bar is much higher for people who have had a very privileged education.

‘Oxbridge colleges and FTSE 100 companies and others who have a social mobility agenda love to look beyond an Old Etonian if they possibly can.

‘There is a time lag but I can see three or four top state schools breaking into the elite group, reflecting a changing culture in Britain, in 30 to 40 years time.’

The report also looked at episodes of Desert Island Discs, again finding that Old Etonians were the most well-represented group to be invited onto the show.

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