Sam Bright and Sascha Lavin report on the burgeoning wealth of Britain’s elite, fee-paying institutions – and the character of the politicians they have created

Private schools attended by current Cabinet ministers have seen their net assets increase by more than £300 million over the past six years, the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.

Calculations suggest that, as of 2015, the schools held net consolidated assets of some £1.065 billion (equivalent to £1.2 billion in 2020 prices). By 2020/21, the assets of these schools had bulged to £1.528 billion – a 22% real terms increase.

The affluence of Britain’s elite private schools has attracted attention in recent weeks, after it was revealed that Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy had donated £100,000 to his alma mater, Winchester College.

Winchester has increased its net assets by more than £70 million – from £276 million in 2015 (equivalent to £312 million if inflation is taken into account), to £385 million in 2020. Over the course of the last decade, Winchester has seen its assets double from £140.4 million (equivalent to £175.5 million).

“Rishi and his wife have donated to numerous charities and philanthropic causes for many years and will continue to do so,” a spokesperson for the Chancellor told Sky News. “These donations are made to help fund scholarships for children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to go to Winchester.”

It costs £43,335 a year to attend Winchester, a boarding school that before September 2022 has only accepted boys. Winchester did not respond to a request for comment.

The analysis did not count four of the 16 private schools attended by Cabinet ministers, due to the schools either closing, merging or restructuring.


A Two-Tier Society

Winchester College is one of nine institutions included in the so-called ‘Clarendon Schools’ – the oldest and most prestigious private schools in the country.

Named after the 19th Century royal commission that investigated the state of leading schools in England, they are also among the wealthiest educational establishments in Britain today.

As the Byline Intelligence Team has previously revealed, the assets of the Clarendon Schools have increased by 44% or almost £600 million in the past six years.

As the UK has faced a period of economic turmoil – through austerity, a hard Brexit, the Coronavirus pandemic and now war in Ukraine – the nation’s elite, fee-paying institutions have experienced burgeoning levels of wealth.

Indeed, Britain’s private schools claim tax breaks through their charitable status – justified through their pledges to offer education to all, regardless of a student’s socio-economic background. They do this through scholarships and other financial support. 

The Labour Party has estimated that a £1.7 billion tax bill is written-off every year for private schools across the UK. At the party’s 2021 conference, Keir Starmer echoed his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn by pledging to end the charity status of independent schools.

It was estimated by the National Education Union that schools in the vast majority of constituencies in England would be worse-off in 2020 than they were in 2015 – while the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that secondary school spending per pupil fell by 9% between 2009-10 and 2019-20, driven by drastic cuts in funding for sixth-forms.

It was reported last week that there are eight parliamentary constituencies in England where there are no schools or sixth form colleges – either independent or state-run – offering ‘A’ Levels. All but two of these areas are in the north of England.

However, this educational deprivation has not been experienced by the vast majority of Cabinet ministers.

According to the Byline Intelligence Team‘s analysis, while 7% of the school population is educated at fee-paying institutions, 58% of Boris Johnson’s current Cabinet ministers attended a private school.

This is a common feature of British political life, with 20 prime ministers having been educated at one school – Eton College. During the past 12 years of Conservative rule, the country has spent nine years governed by an Old Etonian.

As this period in politics has demonstrated, the dominance of an economic elite in Westminster has a distorting effect on the country. Those in power – whether intentionally or not – have concentrated opportunity and wealth among their stablemates; opening up the country to the rampant excesses of oligarchs and tax exiles while demonising migrants and cutting spending on public services that are relied upon by the most disadvantaged.

This is the outcome of a system that has awarded power to those drawn from an elite sub-section of society – whose natural privilege has arguably left them impervious to the material suffering of the poor and vulnerable.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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