His father was a Czech refugee who came to Britain in 1938. Lampl was born in Wakefield and as the family later moved he was educated at Reigate Grammar School and Pate's (Cheltenham) Grammar School. He has said that the contrast between the Oxbridge entrance rates from these two schools alerted him to the differences in educational opportunity in Britain. He studied at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and the London Business School.
Lampl worked outside Britain for over twenty years, initially as a management consultant with The Boston Consulting Group in Boston, Massachusetts and Munich, Germany, and then as an executive at International Paper. In 1983 he created The Sutton Company, a private equity firm, and by the mid 1990s had become extremely wealthy.
On his return from America Lampl was appalled to discover that nowadays "a kid like me had little to no chance of making it to Oxbridge or another Russell Group university", noting that his old grammar school was now "all fee-paying" and his old Oxford college "used to have lots of ordinary Welsh kids, but they're not coming through any more."
His first intervention was the creation of the Oxford Summer School, which gives bright 17-year-olds (from families where no one has been to university) the opportunity to spend a week at Oxford living in college, going to seminars and "hanging out with students who are already there." With government assistance the scheme has since been rolled out to ten other top universities.
Lampl founded the Sutton Trust "to improve educational opportunities for young people from non-privileged backgrounds and increase social mobility." The trust funds a variety of research, campaigning and philanthropical projects, including the "Open Access" experiment which funds 70% of places at the academically selective Belvedere School in Liverpool, a scheme which Lampl says the state should eventually expand to 100 or 200 independent schools who would like to provide "needs-blind" admissions. In this model:
I agree that there will be some selection. You are not increasing selection as those [independent] schools are already selective, you are just maybe selecting some different kinds of people; other people will be being selected. At the moment well-off people have the opportunity to opt out of the state sector into what are by and large academically the best schools in the country.... I am sorry, but when I was at school you could go to the best academic school in this country for free and that is the way it should be.
Former Education Secretary Estelle Morris once suggested that "Given a free hand, he'd re-create the grammar schools. He wants to repeat for others what worked for him." Lampl, however, declines to attribute decreased social mobility to the abolition/large-scale diminution of grammar schools. "It is a combination of schools and universities which has done that."
- "Sir Peter Lampl". Who's Who. A & C Black. 2007. (Available online to subscribers including members of most UK public libraries)
- "Notable Past Pupils". The Old Reigatian Association. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- Wilby, Peter (27 March 2007). "Big spender". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 February 2008.
At Reigate grammar, it was a big occasion if anyone got into Oxbridge. But at Pate's in Cheltenham, which was also a grammar, it was no big deal. It was almost expected of you if you did well. I learned from this that there are certain schools that link into Oxford and Cambridge. I got to Oxford, but I wouldn't have if I had stayed in Reigate.
- Eleanor Mills (22 July 2007). "An opening in Oxford". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- Dominic Lawson (18 January 2009). "Stuck fast in the myth of social immobility". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "Sutton Trust : Home". Retrieved 18 February 2009.[dead link]
- McCormack, Steve (16 April 2004). "Still Blair's favourite millionaire?". The Independent.
- "Minutes of Evidence". Select Committee on Education and Skills. www.parliament.uk. 10 November 2003. p. Question 334. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "Minutes of Evidence". Select Committee on Education and Skills. www.parliament.uk. 10 November 2003. p. Question 340. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "Minutes of Evidence". Select Committee on Education and Skills. www.parliament.uk. 10 November 2003. p. Questions 351–357. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "For services to education". BBC News. 4 January 2000. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- "School leaders get top honours". BBC News. 13 June 2003. Retrieved 18 February 2009.
- Estelle Morris Meets Sir Peter Lampl (30-minute interview on teachers.tv)