Independent schools fear the hike in university tuition fees will trigger an exodus from their sixth-forms as parents decide to save on education costs, the chairman of a body representing an elite group of private schools has warned.
David Levin, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, spoke out as the Government announced plans to allow universities to almost triple the flat rate of tuition to #163;9,000 by 2012.
Every year thousands of pupils join private schools in the sixth-form only, in a bid to ensure they get the highest A-level results possible. If they remain in the maintained sector, it could have significant ramifications for sixth-form provision in some areas.
Mr Levin said heads of fee-charging schools in areas with highly developed state sixth-form college systems could find parents opt for the state sector as a way of saving cash ahead of the expense of university.
Mr Levin, who is head of the high-achieving City of London School, said: "The increase in tuition fees could cause a lot of parents to review their financial planning for education for their children, and sixth-form education could be a casualty.
"Good state sixth-form colleges could become very attractive to fee-paying parents because they are going to have to budget an extra #163;18,000 minimum."
His view was echoed by Hilary Moriarty, director of the Boarding Schools' Association, who said the tuition fee rise would worry heads in some schools.
"Around a third of boarders are sixth-form students, and boarding is the most expensive form of education you can buy," she said. "It would be reasonable to think that this might be an area of anxiety."