David Cameron may encourage large numbers of foreign pupils to attend UK state schools, according to leaked letter.
The idea is likely to provoke concern over the capacity of country's state school sector, as well as criticism at the policy's contradiction with the government's recent imposition of a cap on education visas as part of a drive to bring down net migration.
The four-page letter signed by the Prime Minister's private secretary reveals that Cameron's anxiety at the effect of the visa cap on the country's university sector led him to ask ministers to explore ways of letting more foreign students into the country.
It goes on to say that plans should be formulated to ease the way for foreign youngsters to study in British state schools, presumably in return for paying fees. Dated July 1, it reveals that the Prime Minister ordered David Willetts, universities minister, to work with the Department for Education on plans “allowing international students to access places at academies”.
It goes on: “We have some of the most successful and innovative publicly-funded schools in the world and an internationally renowned independent sector...
“This is meant to be a long-term strategy and while the Academies / Free Schools programme should focus on consolidating domestic progress over the next couple of year, we should look at export potential too.
“This should include consideration of allowing international students to access places at academies.”
The letter, obtained by The Times, does not specify details of the plan or refer directly to fees. However Whitehall insiders told the newspaper that it would be unlikely that Mr Cameron would recommend any plan that would burden taxpayers and that fees would be an obvious alternative.
Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary, was quick to criticise the scheme. “Parents will have serious questions for the Prime Minister about opening up schools to overseas pupils.”
Downing Street have declined to comment on the letter.