The History of Grammar Schools

Grammar School

The History of Grammar Schools

Grammar schools are a big part of the UK education system, and they have been part of our history for 500 years. Some of our most famous faces have emerged from a grammar school such as Sir David Attenborough, Boris Johnson and Benedict Cumberbatch.

What is a Grammar School?

A grammar school is a state secondary school that selects their pupils based on whether they pass an exam, known as the 11 plus. If children don’t pass the 11 plus exam, then they can go to a secondary school where all pupils are taught together with no real weight on their ability or aptitude differences.

There are many grammar schools in England and Northern Ireland, but there are no selective grammar schools in Wales and Scotland, but they still have the name grammar school for some schools.

When Did They Start?

Grammar schools were created in the 16th Century but the grammar school as we know it started in 1944 under the Education Act. This meant that education after the age of 14 was free with pupils going to either a grammar school which focused on academic studies or secondary schools where it was assumed most children would go into a trade instead of University like their counterparts.

Why the System Changed

Labour politicians believed in the 1950s and 1960s that selective education reinforced class division and the privileges of the middle classes. With this in mind, the government decided to start phasing out grammar schools and secondary schools and replace them with a comprehensive system.

As predicted, the areas controlled by Labour made the quickest changes while areas controlled by the Conservatives moved slowly, or in some areas, not at all. Across the UK, some counties and local authorities have kept the selective school system while others have kept a mix of the two.

In 1998, Labour introduced a new School Standards and Framework Act that meant no new selective schools could be created, at the same time making sure that there were local ballots on the future of existing grammar schools.

How Are Pupils Selected

Grammar schools select their pupils through a test called the 11 plus which is taken in the last year of primary school. This exam enables the grammar school to see if the child can learn in an environment with peers of a similar academic ability. It is so important for some children, and parents, to go to a grammar school that there are now many companies that offer tuition, guidance and mock tests for the 11 plus exam to help children pass it.

Although everyone always seems to have an opinion on whether selective grammar schools are good for children and the country, they are always going to be part of the education system in the UK.

However, the success of many children that have emerged from them can’t be denied. Grammar schools continue to offer students a good range of support and activities, helping them to achieve success and strive for the best future possible.

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