State sixth-formers should be offered funded places at private schools, a leading headmaster said today.
David Levin, the new chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), suggested fee-paying schools could seek bursaries from the business sector to help fund places for talented pupils in areas such as science, maths and languages.
He has already approached bankers in an effort to raise funding, according to the Independent.
In an interview with the newspaper, Mr Levin, who is also headmaster of City of London School, said he was optimistic he could gain the support of the banking community, and other HMC schools.
He said pupils would be offered "deeply discounted fees", adding that as the places would be for sixth form, after the end of compulsory schooling, "we don't think we can be accused of poaching them from the state sector."
"If you offered just two or three places per school and you got 200 HMC schools and, say, 50 from the Girls' Schools Association to take part, you would be getting on towards supplying 1,000 places."
He added: "A lot of departments - in science and languages - have closed at prestigious universities and the Government has recognised we need to give these subjects a boost.
"If we believe we're a major part of the national education service then we have got to take every chance to make a positive contribution and enable as many children as possible to take up these subjects which are so vital to the future of our country."
The proposals come ahead of the HMC's annual conference, which is due to open in London on Monday.
Mr Levin later told the Press Association that each of the places would be means-tested.
He said he had spoken to around a dozen HMC heads and they had all been "supportive" of the proposals.
Mr Levin said it was beneficial to businesses to get involved because they have previously raised concerns about the lack of graduates in traditional subjects and disciplines such as physical and natural sciences.
The scheme would also build relationships between business and HMC schools, he said.
"We are trying to reverse this dearth, this shortage of children taking traditional subjects at prestigious universities," Mr Levin said.
"The country can't afford it going forward, and we are in a unique position to help."
Mr Levin has a past history of fundraising, having embarked on fundraising initiatives at his current school, and in his previous role as head of the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe.
The HMC represents 250 fee-paying schools collectively educating around 190,000 children.