The Labour party's failure to change its policy on abolishing the Assisted Places Scheme has upset independent school headteachers.
Tony Evans, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, said it would be "an act of political vandalism which would force independent schools, totally against their will into a divisive and unnecessary social enclave".
The mood of the HMC meeting in Glasgow this week was in marked contrast to last year's when leaders were optimistic of a new relationship with the opposition party. Vivian Anthony, secretary of the HMC, said: "It's fair to say we got on very well with David Blunkett [the shadow education secretary] and we got the impression that they were being serious about wanting to work with us."
Mr Evans claimed that the money saved from abolishing the scheme would amount to only one 16th of a place at a primary school. Stephen Winkley, head of Uppingham School in Leicestershire, said abolition was "purely ideological, my daughter is in a class of 35 and the peanuts they'll get from doing away with the APS won't make any difference to her".
Michael Mavor, head of Rugby School and chairman-elect, thought that schools would not suffer, but pupils would. "It's a shame for the country as a whole."
The Independent Schools Information Service will soon be mounting a campaign to remind parents of the benefits of the scheme and alert them to its possible demise under Labour. A poll carried out by ISIS in August showed that more than half the people intending to vote Labour supported the APS.
Shortly after last year's conference, the Government announced a doubling of of the scheme from the current 34,000, depending on parental demand and the supply of high-quality places.
Speakers were also concerned with issues of moral and pastoral education, but were reassured by Mr Evans that schools should not be blamed for society's inconsistencies and conflicting values. "Schools do not give away a crate of yob-labelled 'alcopop' with every registration."