Parents want more private provision of education and would welcome school vouchers, a new study from Newcastle University suggests.
The research was led by Professor James Tooley, who has long argued against state provision of schooling.
Professor Tooley and Dr Pauline Dixon surveyed 1,246 parents in Britain and found that 56 per cent agreed state schools should be more self- managing and independent.
About eight out of 10 felt politicians should interfere less in schools and the same proportion agreed that "it shouldn't matter whether schools are run by the Government, charities or private companies provided that everyone including the least well off has access to a quality education".
Half of parents said they would be happy to send their child to a private school if the Government provided a voucher for the amount. But this dropped to 37 per cent if the voucher did not cover the full cost and they had to top it up.
Writing in today's TES, Professor Tooley said the success of low-cost independent schools in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa showed that private education need not be "a middle-class monopoly" in the UK.
"There is no reason why parents' doubts about state education in Britain shouldn't be taken seriously," he said. "A much larger private sector should be encouraged."
The findings come as the Conservatives launched plans to encourage more schools to operate independently as academies. Its schemes build on the party's pledge to reduce local authority control over schools and bring in more independent state schools - modelled on the Swedish "free school" system - which could be set up by parents, religious organisations and charities.
But Michael Pyke, spokesman for the Campaign for State Education, challenged Professor Tooley's conclusions.
"Of course in Britain parents want their children to go to private schools - because it is associated with status," he said. "It is true that the best private schools offer an extremely good education, and when you look at the resources put into the best private schools, that is not surprising - Eton charges pound;28,000 a year.
"Parents are interested in their own children, but are not necessarily motivated to act for the good of the system as a whole. We had a private education system in the 19th century, so why do we and every developed country in the world have state education? Because every developed country has seen that an education system in which all children participate is essential for social and economic well-being."
- Vouchers to pay for private education if the same price as state schools: YES: 49% NO: 29%
- Vouchers that parents could top up: YES: 37% NO: 39%
- Removing politicians from day-to-day running of schools: YES: 78% NO 8%
- Admissions based on ability: YES 27% NO 54%
- Academies: YES 50% NO 16%
- Private companies taking over failing schools: YES 36% NO 40%.