Boys could soon be admitted to an all girls independent school for the first time.

Plans to make the junior school of St Mary's Hall mixed were revealed yesterday by its new headteacher.

Huw May said the move would be an essential step for the school in Eastern Road, Brighton, if it wanted to keep up with competition from rivals in the city and across Sussex.

He said: "Nothing is definite yet, this is still a proposal at this stage, but I think it will be an important step forward for the school and I will be pushing for it.

"There is a lot of potential here."

Statistics for the past few years have shown a dramatic fall nationally in the number of applications for places at all girls schools.

A key cause of this shift has been the number of all boys schools which have now turned co-ed. Many independent girls schools have St Mary's Hall has faced increasing competition in recent years as nearby independent boys' schools Brighton College, in Eastern Road, and St Aubyn's, in Rottingdean, have both started accepting girls.

Mr May, who took up his position this term, said any change at St Mary's would be made one year group at a time.

The move was among a series of changes he hoped to implement.

Mr May, who moved from St Aubyn's, said: "I will be reviewing every aspect of the school to look for ways to improve. I think St Mary's Hall is a real hidden gem in Brighton. A lot of people simply don't realise we are here."

One of the first changes he will make will be to open the school's nursery for 50 weeks of the year, instead of restricting it to coincide with school terms.

Mr May said: "We have brand new top quality buildings here so we want to make the most of them. It makes sense to extend the nursery, most parents don't stop needing to use it during the school holidays."

The junior school and nursery occupy an environmentally designed building at the front of the school site. Solar panels generate power and sensors in each room automatically dim the lights when they are not needed.

The pre-prep section at the school has already begun accepting boys up to the age of eight as well as girls, setting a precedent for changes higher up the junior school.

Sue Meek, the headteacher of St Mary's Hall senior school, said there were no plans to mix classes from ages 11 to 18.