FREE state education is being gradually eroded, as schools are made to jump through hoops for government funds and parental top-ups, the Campaign for State Education will claim tomorrow.
It is running a London conference on the future of state funding amid mounting fears that schools are having to spend many hours bidding or begging for cash.
Peter Downes, a former school head and education consultant who is due to address the conference, said: "We are now on the brink of a national debate about whether state schools are free.
"Are parents increasingly going to be asked to contribute to school funds, as parents have been at The London Oratory?"
Last month it emerged that The Oratory, attended by Tony Blair's two sons, is asking families to pay pound;30 per child each month to help meet a financial shortfall.
The chair of CASE, David Gordon, will question the Government's commitment to publicly-funded education. "While schools are being forced to compete with each other to bid for limited public funds, the private sector seems to be seeping in to fill the gaps," he told The TES.
The conference, Beggars, Choosers and Losers, will also examine the private sector's role in school funding.
Speakers will include a head from an education action zone, governors involved in private finance initiatives, and a governor from a Surrey school taken over by a private company.
Tory education spokeswoman Theresa May, who says that her party's new policy will ensure governing bodies get the whole budget, will also address the conference. "We are still working out the mechanism - one of the options being a national formula," she said.
The policy, launched at the Conservative party conference, would also allow a greater role for private and voluntary groups in running state education.
The conference will be held at the University of London Union, Malet Street, London, WC1