PRESTIGIOUS boys-only Birkenhead School is set to break history by admitting girls from next year.

Letters have been sent out informing parents that the independent school, founded in 1860, will become co-educational from September.

The decision comes after a lengthy consultation process and means that doors will open to girls of suitable ability from ages five to 18.

The school in Beresford Road, Oxton already admitted girls to the sixth form in 2000 and opened a mixed nursery last year.

But the go-ahead to extend its provision to girls as well as boys has been accelerated by plans for nearby Birkenhead High School for Girls to drop its fee-paying status to become an academy from 2009.

Birkenhead School governors say that their establishment is in a "strong financial position" and are confident that the move will provide "long-term security and independence against the background of a falling birth rate."

In a letter to parents of pupils, headmaster John Clark said that the historical decision has the unanimous support of staff who are enthusiastic about the benefits - and that the school is poised to become the only academically selective and independent school in Wirral.

"We believe that there will be many benefits to be had from boys and girls being educated together and this seems the ideal moment to make the move," he says.

"We have already sought the advice of other independent schools which have become co-educational and we shall draw up on their experience as we enter into a period of planning and preparation, which will again be informed by the views of parents and pupils."

Some parents felt that the school should remain as it is but governors said that high standards and the quality of teaching will remain unchanged.

School policy on class size will also stay as it is and there will be no change in the way pupils are selected.

Now plans are now underway for the school to accommodate girls and architects are working on developing facilities for current pupils and new arrivals.

The school regularly invests over a quarter of a million pounds a year upgrading facilities.

It was founded in the latter half of the nineteenth century and for many years enjoyed an enviable reputation as the leading boys' school in Wirral Mr Clark added: "I believe pupils, parents and staff can all look forward with excitement to the prospect of Birkenhead School assuming its place amongst the very top schools in the North West of England."

Information evenings for prospective pupils and their parents will be held over the coming weeks and updates will be loaded onto the school's website