A-LEVEL reforms could mean an increase in independent-school fees, the country's top private schools have warned.
Extra teaching costs may have to be passed to parents if pupils study more subjects in the lower sixth, according to the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, whose members represent 240 leading boys' and co-ed public schools.
HMC claims the majority of private schools will continue to offer A-levels, despite reports that many are considering dropping the new-look exam in favour of the International Baccalaureate.
A spokesman said he only expected a few schools which already experiment with the IB not to offer modular A-levels.
HMC welcomed the reforms and said it had asked ministers to introduce the new "horizontal" AS-level and a broader curriculum.
But private schools are expected to reject plans for sixth-formers to study five subjects in their first year. They argue that it would be expensive, impossible to timetable and would leave no time for general studies or extra-curricular activities.
A summit of more than 250 independent school heads discussed how best to implement the new modular AS and A-levels, at a joint HMC and Girls' Schools Association conference in Leeds yesterday.
They argued that taking four subjects would be more realistic for most students - although this would also bring funding and timetabling difficulties.
Vivian Anthony, secretary of the HMC, said: "There are going to be significant resource implications in the lower sixth even if pupils do four subjects instead of three. It will add a minimum of 10 per cent to costs in the lower sixth.
"It will be up to individual heads how they resource it."
Graham Able, master of Dulwich College, south London, said concerns about falling standards were unjustified. But he warned: "There is a danger with five subjects that breadth would be gained at the expense of a proper general studies curriculum. At Dulwich we are thinking of offering four subjects in the first year and would expect more boys to continue those four and do four A-levels than at present."
Susan Singer, head of Guildford High School for Girls and chair of the GSA education committee, said schools needed assurance that universities would give preference to candidates who had broadened their studies before they could advise pupils.
She said: "Admissions tutors seem remarkably uninformed and happy to wait and see what new qualifications candidates offer.
"But schools need to know how universities will view AS-levels before they are able to advise pupils whether to take four or five ASs or stick with three A-levels."
She said it was unlikely that independent schools would offer the new key-skills qualifications until they carried admission points.