Leading independent schools were warned they must consider whether they are "morally justified'' in claiming charitable status in order to avoid paying millions of pounds in tax.
Sir Peter Lampl, the millionaire philanthropist campaigning to get more working-class youngsters into leading universities, also warned last night that "much damage'' had been done to the schools by allegations that they had colluded to fix fees.
Four leading private schools - including Eton - are being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading over such allegations, while the Charity Commissioners are carrying out a review of charitable status.
At the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference - which represents the top independent boys schools - in Dublin, Sir Peter said: "Legally, it looks as if the right of your schools to charitable status is secure. But morally, it is a different matter."
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