Leading public schools found guilty of fee-fixing have been offered a deal to pay only a fraction of the potentially massive fines they faced.
The Office of Fair Trading had the power to charge each of the 50 schools, which include Eton, Harrow, and Winchester, as well as five in the Midlands, up to ten per cent of their annual turnover.
But instead they will be asked to pay just £10,000 plus a voluntary charity contribution of around £60,000.
The schools would be expected to accept that between 2001 and 2004 they exchanged detailed information about fees, in breach of the Competition Act 1998.
They have until the end of March to respond but it was reported 49 out of the 50 were expected to accept the terms.
The five Midland schools involved were Bromsgrove School, Cheltenham College, Malvern College, Rugby School and Shropshire's Shrewsbury School.
An OFT spokeswoman said: "If the schools accept we will close the investigation."
They would accept that they made an "object infringement" of the Act but not any liability that this had any effect on fees.
"The upshot of this is that rather than us saying 'you have infringed the law every which way and we are going to collect the penalty and give it to the Treasury', we are saying we want to find a more innovative solution to what is quite a unique case," the spokes-woman said.
The charity payment of an average £60,000, varying depending on the income of the school, would go into a trust to be set up for pupils or former pupils affected by the distortion in fees caused by the fee-fixing.
About 40,000 would be expected to benefit from the fund, which will be used for educational purposes and would pay out before the pupils' 13th birthdays.
The schools were found guilty of running an illegal fee-fixing cartel in a provisional ruling by the OFT last November.
The OFT said then it had the power to issue a fine of up to ten per cent of an institution's annual turnover.
But independent school leaders at the time condemned the two-year investigation as "a scandalous waste of public money".
The cartel operated through a survey, updated regularly, and conducted by Sevenoaks School in Kent.
The information was then circulated among all the schools involved in the form of tables.
A spokesman for the Independent Schools Council said: "The schools have always been clear that any breach of competition law was inadvertent."
The ISC said that the 50 schools were "preparing to bring the process to an end". ..SUPL: