Eton College is considering sponsoring a boarding academy in a bid to help some of the country's most disadvantaged children, the headmaster of the country's most famous private school has revealed.
Tony Little said his school, and others like it, had "experience, expertise and a compelling philosophy to share" in helping to establish a new generation of independently run state boarding academies.
Mr Little said more state boarding schools could "open up access to an educational sector of world class to those who need most help". He told The TES that Eton would be "happy to be involved in what we know", talking about sponsorship of a boarding academy, rather than a day school.
"Sponsoring a state boarding school, we would consider that," he said. "We would certainly be involved with one."
The comments mark a significant shift for the elite public school, which has previously rebuffed attempts by ministers to get them involved in the academies programme. If Eton follows through with its sponsorship it will join a number of other top public schools already involved in the scheme, including Dulwich College and Wellington College (see box, right).
Mr Little told the Boarding Schools' Association heads conference in Torquay this week: "As a nation we cannot afford not to find new ways to develop our young people, from the determined and ambitious to the feckless and the disengaged. Boarding schools change lives for the better.
"Any government serious about education must seriously take advantage of what boarding schools have to offer," he said.
He added: "The genius of good boarding schools is that they offer an answer to contemporary concerns about social cohesion and even the `broken society'."
Mr Little also called for a new assisted places scheme - where the government pays for pupils to attend independent schools - but "focused squarely on boarding".
Mr Little told The TES the further development of state boarding, which has been supported by Labour and the Conservatives, was still "fragile and tremulous" and risked "ending up on the editing room floor" once it came to budgetary decision making.
He also expressed concern that state boarding initiatives had to be "devoid of historical class prejudice" and achieve a social mix. It would be wrong, he said, to group too many pupils from troubled backgrounds together, for fear of creating a "borstal".
Eton College already offers support programmes to local state schools and aims to raise pound;50 million to subsidise the pound;29,000 fees for a third of its pupils.
The headmaster's expression of interest in academies comes after the Conservatives announced they would put "rocket boosters" under the programme and "significantly increase" the numbers of looked after children benefiting from a boarding school education.
- Dulwich College, south London: Isle of Sheppey Academy, Kent.
- The Skinners' School, Tunbridge Wells: The Skinners' Kent Academy, Tunbridge Wells.
- Wellington College, Crowthorne: Wellington Academy, Tidworth, Wiltshire.