Families earning up to £120,000 a year receive bursaries if they send their children to a leading independent school, it has emerged.
St Paul’s School in south London, which is highly selective, charges £23,500 a year for day pupils and more than £35,000 for boarders.
Bursaries are offered to poorer families by most private schools but St Paul’s is offering discounts to parents on a combined salary of £120,000.
Fees have risen by 550 per cent over 25 years and at some schools growing numbers of places have been taken by Russian and Chinese families.
Mark Bailey, the high master, admitted the school had become unaffordable for many middle-class families.
Although overseas pupils take only 5 per cent of places at independent schools they account for a significant proportion of boarding places. There were 70,642 boarders last year, according to the Independent Schools Council’s annual census, and more than 27,000 international pupils.
More than 5,400 pupils were on bursaries at private schools last year, and many of these have parents on very low incomes. According to Professor Bailey, “The part-bursaries are being offered in a far more generous way. You will be looking eventually at [families earning] £150,000, £170,000, £190,000 potentially benefiting.”
Andrew Halls, the head master of King’s College School in Wimbledon, southwest London, has said that middle-class families had been priced out of private education because of an “endless queue” of wealthy people from outside Britain pushing up fees.
He said in 2014 that local lawyers, accountants and military officers had stopped sending their children to his school because of the costs. He is opening schools abroad and using the proceeds to try to offer places in Britain solely on merit.