STATE schools are almost as expensive as private schools when hidden costs are factored in, new research suggests.
Initial results of a study by the Adam Smith Institute show that the gap in costs may be much smaller than previously thought.
Matthew Young, director of projects, said: "The gap between state and privately provided education is almost certainly not as great as has been supposed. We are going to find it is interestingly close."
The research centres on an analysis of the real costs of state education, which have caused debate in the past as they are hard to ascertain. "Economies of scale mask substantial inefficiencies," Mr Young added.
Government statistics show the average cost of a state school pupil is pound;2,270 a year, while the average fee at a private day school is pound;6,216.
Mr Young said hidden expenses for the maintained sector, including teachers' pensions, are not part of the state figure, but are factored into the cost of private education.
Another big overhead are school buildings. "This probably adds 8 to 10 per cent to education costs," said Mr Young. No figures are yet available to support the claims.
Mr Young said the results could spark a new debate about education delivery. "If we get some transparency into this, it opens up the debate and the prospect of greater innovation," he said.
He added that the question of what we really spend on education is "quite extraordinarily obscure".
The Adam Smith Institute is a right-wing think-tank whose work on education covers alternative models such as charter schools.
Mr Young's research is due to be published in April but the preliminary findings come shortly after another right-wing researcher, John Marks, published a report saying that state schools provide better value for money than their private counterparts.
And it also follows claims by the exclusive pound;13,500-a-year Harrogate Ladies' College that sending children to boarding school could actually save parents money.
The institute is focusing on alternative models of education aimed at freeing up the market place and encouraging diversity. Its findings will also be published in April.
Authors working with the institute include James Tooley, the Newcastle University academic who supports the introduction of market-forces into education; former chief inspector Chris Woodhead, who is writing on declining standards; and David Hargreaves, previously head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
Meanwhile, another right-wing think-tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, has launched a research project looking at standards in Britain and abroad.