Schools, universities and employers have more to do to help rural children overcome hurdles to top jobs - Gillian Shephard

Baroness Gillian Shephard at her home in Swaffham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Baroness Gillian Shephard at her home in Swaffham. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Schools, universities and employers must do more to overcome the hurdles rural children face in getting top jobs, a former education secretary has said.

Baroness Shephard, the deputy chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, spoke of her concern at their 'astonishing' research which has found that small elites, educated at independent schools and Oxbridge, still dominate lead roles in many key professions.

Its analysis of the backgrounds of more than 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders found that 71pc of senior judges, 53pc of diplomats, 50pc of members of the House of Lords, 45pc of public body chairmen, 44pc of the Sunday Times Rich List, 35pc of the national rugby teams and 33pc of the England cricket team attended independent schools, compared to seven per cent of the population as a whole.

Baroness Shephard said that the government, parents, schools, universities and employers, all needed to act. She called for employers to consciously widen their talent pool. 'They should not be saying we only want Oxford or Cambridge candidates, when there could be other fabulous candidates elsewhere,' she said.

But she also said that schools had a responsibility to help try and reverse the trend, by giving good quality careers advice, setting up work experience and bringing in outside speakers: 'It's much more difficult in rural areas and there is a greater burden on the schools.

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'They need to draw on professionals, universities and other organisations to help,' she said.

She also said the universities should be taking into account the barriers of students when it came to personal statements.

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'They should be taking into account how difficult it is to get work experience if you are living in an isolated area where transport is an issue. There are big rural barriers, but there are ways of enriching the lives of children in rural schools and the best schools are already doing it.'

Is enough being done to get people from a wide range of backgrounds into top roles? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email

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