Eton College is backing plans to increase the number of state boarding school places in the UK.
The boys-only private school has been involved in talks with at least two state schools about the prospect of opening up new boarding houses for their pupils.
Tony Little, headmaster of Eton, told The Independent that the number of state boarding schools will grow as a result of the stampede to take up academy status. "As they develop specialisms in areas such as sports and music, the likelihood is that they will be attracting students from further afield– for whom boarding could have a positive impact."
Mr Little rejected the idea, pioneered by Andrew Adonis in the last Labour government, that state boarding places should just be for vulnerable children from broken homes or where parents were on the verge of splitting. Mr Little said they should offer the opportunity to young people from a range of backgrounds. He added: "The old image of boarding as fagging and beating and not walking down certain corridors, that's pretty well long gone."
Instead, today's 1,300 pupils at Eton all have their own boarding room rather than being crammed into dormitories.
The drive towards opening up more boarding school places in the state sector is among several initiatives being planned by Eton to improve links with the state sector.
The college is to increase the number of pupils on scholarships and bursaries from its present level of 20 per cent to 33 per cent. In addition, it wants at least 70 of its pupils to have free places.
And the college will be among 10 independent schools helping to set up a free school for bright but disadvantaged pupils in the East End of London. Eton will be responsible for English teaching at the London Academy of Excellence.
As from this September, it is also offering mentoring by its sixth-formers to students taking A-level maths at neighbouring Slough and Eton Church of England College.
This flurry of initiatives, Mr Little insists, is nothing to do with any fear of the Charity Commissioners scrutinising whether it still deserves its charitable status. "We have had links with the state sector for years," he said. He rejected David Cameron's claims – made in his party conference speech – that there was an "apartheid" between the state and private sector. At a meeting with independent school heads at Downing Street, Mr Cameron exhorted his alma mater to become an academy sponsor itself. Mr Little said: "I don't doubt that some of our teachers would be excellent [at dealing with the problems of pupils at inner-city schools] but it would be wrong to assume that a school like mine has the expertise to deal with some of the problems that arise."