Asking universities to make lower offers to pupils from state schools is like asking an engineer to improve an aeroplane "after it has already crashed", an independent school leader said this week.
Philip Cottam, chairman of the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools, and headmaster of Halliford School in Shepperton, said the number of poorer children failing to fulfil their potential was a "blot" on the educational landscape.
Mr Cottam told heads at the society's conference in Telford, Shropshire, it would be unfair if university admissions tutors discriminated against private school pupils using a "mechanistic template."
While not advocating a return to grammar schools, he said learning from their successes could provide part of the solution.
He said: "Trying to force universities to repair, let alone make up for, the problems of 18 years of upbringing and education is certainly not the answer. It is approaching the issue from the wrong end and is like asking an aeronautical engineer to improve the design of an aircraft after the plane has already crashed."
Mr Cottam welcomed the introduction of the new university technical colleges to increase the quality of vocational education.
"It is essential we close the gap that has existed for too long between the quality of our vocational education and that available in Germany," he said.
"Without that, vocational education will never acquire the esteem that it currently lacks, and we will continue to do many of our young people a disservice, to the detriment of our success as a nation."