The rumour, rife in middle-class homes, that the more prestigious universities are running admissions policies biased against public-school pupils was effectively quashed this week by the heads of leading private schools.
A Girls' Schools Association and Headmasters' Conference survey of nearly 250 schools which prepared around 19,000 candidates for university entrance found barely a dozen cases of bias against independent school candidates. Report author Janet Lawley, a Bristol graduate and headmistress of Bury Grammar School, said: "I don't think that amounts to a major problem."
Miss Lawley said that one teacher training candidate had been rejected "since they did not have any experience of state school". She added that the admissions tutor was "clearly out of order", but did not suggest that this was typical.
Miss Lawley said: "This is not a problem peculiar to any particular type of university or department. It lies in the minds of those who have no idea that independent schools are all different. We are not all able to provide small classes with intensive training for entrance to Oxford and Cambridge."
Indeed, some of those universities which are sometimes seen as centres of bias appear at the top of the list of universities recognised as having good admissions procedures: Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, St Andrews and Southampton.
A bigger problem appears to be connected with racial background, and the HMC and GSA report says some schools harbour "grave fears of prejudice against Asian candidates by medical schools".