Peter Lampl, who is offering nearly pounds 1m a year to turn the fee-paying Belvedere School for girls in Toxteth, Liverpool,into an "open access" school, wants to use his pilot scheme to persuade the Government to fund the top 100 independent schools in the country on the basis of merit, not wealth.
The Government has abolished the assisted places scheme which helped fund able pupils in private schools but Mr Lampl believes "anything is possible" after the next general election. At present, he argues, we are squandering the talents of bright children whose parents cannot afford an independent school. The chance of getting into Oxford from an independent school are 30 times greater than from a comprehensive. Mr Lampl said: "The advantages of wealth in our education system are astonishing and are not seen anywhere else in the advanced world. It is unfair and makes no economic sense."
Mr Lampl made his money as founder of the Sutton Company, a private equity firm that made investments in the United States and Europe. An unapologetic supporter of selective schools, he believes the conversion of many grammar schools into comprehensives and the abolition of government funding for direct-grant grammar schools in the Seventies have cut opportunities for poor children. "Selection is a fact of life and let's not pretend it doesn't happen all the time everywhere," he said.
The pilot scheme will be funded jointly by Mr Lampl's Sutton Trust and the Girls Day School Trust, which owns Belvedere school. Belvedere will know nothing of its pupils' financial circumstances.
Mr Lampl said he was not attempting to replicate the previous scheme. "Assisted places parachuted a few poor children into a rich school. All children at this school will be picked on the basis of merit."
Jill Richards, Belvedere's head, said: "I am absolutely delighted. One of the saddest things I have to do is to tell clever girls that I don't have enough money to admit them."
Mr Lampl is already funding summer schools for disadvantaged pupils at four leading universities and helping to finance partnerships between state and private schools set up by the Government. Senior Government sources said they had no plans to offer state funding for Mr Lampl's project.