Sociologists Bordieu and Boltanski suggest that the use of the right educational qualifications is “a method of class reproduction no less effective than the older mechanism of direct inheritance of wealth.”
British schools have traditionally performed a socialising function, teaching leadership and conservative values in elite schools and “submissive acceptance of the social order” in the schools where working class children attended. Over time this socialisation has had to be less explicit but the underlying assumptions are still there.
In Britain, high social status, a public school education (‘public’ schools being exlusive private schools in Britain) and a non-technical degree from one of the more prestigious universities — Oxford or Cambridge (referred to as Oxbridge) — are better keys to top corporate jobs than a technical education even at university level or a postgraduate business qualification. This is referred to as the 'old boy network', suggesting that connections made at school are an invaluable aid to future careers.
Every year there are reports of talented young people from state schools who have failed to get into Oxbridge despite having three As at A-level, fuelling a sense that the country’s top universities are biased towards the independent sector... Although Oxford and Cambridge have each increased the proportion of students from state schools, they are both still well short of the targets set by Government. More than 45 per cent of places at Oxford and 40 per cent at Cambridge are taken by students from independent schools, even though they educate just 7 per cent of the population...
[A Sutton Trust] 2007 study found that the number of pupils at the top 30 comprehensives who went to Oxbridge was just a third of what might be expected if entry was based on ability alone. Every year, the so-called “missing 3,000” have the results to go to top universities, but miss out. At the top 30 independent schools the situation is reversed, with more than might be expected getting places at Oxbridge.
The diagram below shows that two thirds of UK front bench politicians in 2011 came from independent and private schools, which are attended by 6.5% of children.
A study by the Social Mobility Commission in the UK found that three years after graduation from University, those who attended private schools were more likely to have high status jobs, even if they had the same grades, went to the same universities and did the same degrees:
Reference: Lindsey Macmillan and Anna Vignoles, ‘Mapping the occupational destinations of new graduates’, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, London, October 2013, p. 27.
Our results indicate a persistent advantage from having attended a private school. This raises questions about whether the advantage that private school graduates have is because they are better socially or academically prepared, have better networks or make different occupational choices.
Schools in the supposedly more equalitarian countries of Australia and US also perform a selecting role that is often influenced by the wealth of a child’s parents. In Australia, private schools, particularly Protestant schools, have a greater attendance by children from higher-status backgrounds and traditionally “cater for an occupational and economic élite.” R. W. Connell in his book Ruling Class Ruling Culture noted that “The structure of the school system thus serves as a streaming system on a grand scale, which sorts children in very large measure on class criteria.”
Of the 150 members of the House of Representatives, nearly half went to a private/independent school. This is highest in the Liberal Party where half to three-quarters of Liberal MPs went to a private/independent school. (I can't be more specific, unfortunately because 20 per cent of Liberal Party MPs were surprisingly coy and wouldn't reveal the type of school they went to when asked.)
Daniel Golden, in his book The Price of Admission has demonstrated that the wealthy elites in the US are able to buy the way for their children to attend prestigious, ivy league universities (such as Harvard, Duke, Brown, Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, Princeton, Stanford and Amherst), thereby jumping the queue ahead of others who have better academic records and exam scores. By attending these universities, they "acquire a prestigious career credential and high-powered friends and spouses" and the elites are able to perpetuate themselves as a class.
Reference: Albert Scardino, ‘New Yorkers & Co.’, New York Times, 25 April 1988.
But in New York, at least, graduates of the nation's elite business schools had been commanding a much bigger presence even before the scandals on Wall Street. Financial services, where business school graduates dominate the senior ranks, have experienced explosive growth. As a result, not only have these graduates poured into the city, but they have also come to represent a larger share of the ruling business class.
Trumpbour, in his book How Harvard Rules, examines the role of Harvard Business School (HBS) in supporting US capitalism, notes that one of the functions that the HBS fulfils is that of class cohesion. It hosts an annual Business Statesman Award, "which almost always goes to the leading representatives of finance capital", at a lavish gathering of the ruling class.
Regarded as the West Point of U.S. capitalism, the Harvard Business School (HBS) produces the field marshals—and the field manuals—that guide finance and industry... HBS faculty hold directorships on 27 separate companies belonging to the Fortune 500; the nearest business school rival holds a mere seven.
Increasingly the top executives in large US investment firms are being recruited from elite business schools. For example in 2005 "among the 180 principals and managing directors in the 20 largest investment firms, 73 [held] an MBA from on of the six elite schools" including 51 from Harvard.