The former Conservative Prime Minister John Major famously left his comprehensive school, Rutlish, in London with three O-Levels: history, English language and English literature.
In November last year, he lamented the “shocking” domination in Britain of those who were educated at public schools.
“In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class.
“To me, from my background, I find that truly shocking.”
Although Major did actually achieve three further O-Levels (in maths, economics, and, rather bafflingly, the British Constitution) after leaving school, it is still unusual for a political leader to have a poor academic record. Let’s look at how our current party leaders fared at school:
We don’t know exactly what marks the PM received in his O-Levels, but we do know the Eton-educated Cameron is a chillaxer by some accounts. Although he did sit 12 O-Levels – quite a high number even by today’s standards – he described his results as “not very good”. And although he passed them all, his pre-sixth form academic record has been described as “average”.
His biographers Francis Elliott and James Hanning quote a fellow Etonian, recalling: “We were convinced there would never be an Etonian prime minister again. I certainly didn’t think Dave would have a go at it. His only acting roles at school were as a serving-man and as a girl. He was never outrageously extrovert – just quietly popular.”
One of his teachers, John Clark, is also quoted: “He didn’t draw attention to himself. He wasn’t effusive or loud… [he was] very much a late developer academically”.
However, things looked up when he sat his A-Levels, achieving three As at A-level, in history, history of art and economics with politics. Shame the UK’s triple A credit rating slipped for the first time since the Seventies under his leadership…
According to a quick sweep through Google, the Labour leader’s O-Levels aren’t common knowledge, though he did pass them. However, he scooped four pretty good A-Levels – AABB in maths, English, further maths and physics. He beat his brother David, who got BBBD in his A-Levels.
Both Milibands attended Haverstock School in north London, a state school that has been labelled by the Mail as the “Eton for lefties”:
“… Mr Miliband is hardly a typical comprehensive pupil; and Haverstock, at the time, was not exactly a typical comprehensive school.
“He is a product of the Labour aristocracy. His old school has been mischievously dubbed ‘Labour’s Eton’ – a finishing school for future Labour politicians.
“Apart from Ed’s elder brother, David, alumni include the former New Labour MP Oona King, Tom Bentley (a special adviser to Australia’s Labour prime minister Julia Gillard) and the author Zoe Heller (who described her mother as a glamorous Labour activist with ‘Stalinist inclinations’.)
“Nor was Haverstock Hill in the middle of a sink estate. Its catchment area included the middle-class Hampstead intelligentsia.”
However, the Observer journalist Andrew Anthony, who attended the school, wrote of it in 2012:
“It amuses me now to see the place snipingly referred to as "Labour's Eton". For although it's true that in the 70s the school contained a significant minority of children from the Hampstead and Primrose Hill intelligentsia, violence was rife in and out of the classroom, police were regularly called to the school gates to quell mass fights, and the ethos was embarrassingly unacademic.”
In Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Ed, they quote the head of English at Haverstock, Nikki Haydon, who recalls a large and distinct “middle-class contingency” in the school. They also quote a contemporary of the Labour leader during his schooldays:
“Ed used to hang around with the geek crowd.”
The wisecrack goes: Nick Clegg failed his biology A-Level – he couldn’t find a backbone.
This cannot be confirmed.
The journalist Harry Mount, who was at school with the Lib Dem leader, wrote this about how he was as a student:
“Nick Clegg wasn’t one of the more intelligent boys when he was at Westminster School from 1980 to 1985.
“The clever pupils at Westminster — one of the best, and most expensive, schools in the country, costing £32,490 a year — were ‘accelerated’. That meant they did O-levels after two, as opposed to three, years.
“Clegg, one of the less bright sparks, was selected for the three-year option. Still, that didn’t stop him making it into Robinson College, Cambridge, in 1986”.