What is a Grammar School? Study Coach UK

The reason for posing this question is because some newcomers to the UK might not be aware of grammar schools. Some native UK residents might also be unsure of what exactly is a grammar school, whilst others may perceive grammar schools to be elite learning establishments and therefore not to be recommended.


Historically, the concept of grammar schools can be traced back to the 16th  century, the fact that the majority of children did not attend school in the 16th century, gives us a clue that these schools were for the selective few. Today some parents will go to great lengths to secure a grammar school place for their children. The Grammar school is all about selective intake, meaning that children will need to pass an entry exam in order to compete for a school place. Some grammar schools are funded by the state, others charge a fee. There are 163 grammar schools in England for the school year 2018 – 2019 (Guardian newspaper). 


A grammar school can be differentiated from other schools in respect of the curriculum offered to children. Grammar schools are known to teach Latin and studies in Ancient Greek, alongside with European languages, Physics and Science. Grammar schools are focused on academic excellence, the curriculum centres on academia as opposed to vocational skills. To distinguish grammar schools from secondary modern schools, we could say that the secondary modern school is less academic (Don’t shoot me!). 


There is clearly academic snobbery going on and many people take offence to the labelling of certain schools as being less academic. We should however remember that the ‘Secondary School’ was created for children who failed to pass the 11+ Exam to enter grammar school. Children who failed the 11+ were considered to occupy the division of second class, hence the term ‘secondary school’. I believe that the term ‘secondary school’ was coined by Sir Francis Galton (Darwin’s cousin). It perhaps won’t surprise you to know that Galton was a firm believer in genetics and believed that ‘genius runs in families’. Many people strongly disagree with Galton’s views on making links between intelligence and genetics. The counter argument is that intelligence/academic excellence has more to do with wealth than hereditary/genetic factors.    


It is said that selective intake has created major problems for some schools, particularly when there is a neighbouring grammar school. Neighbouring Secondary schools find it difficult to mirror the good GCSE results achieved by grammar schools (Guardian newspaper). I guess that we could ask ourselves what is more important, is it to ensure that all schools get good GCSE results or should the focus be on giving children the freedom to choose which school to attend based on merit? Parents who are financially well off or knowledgeable about grammar school will pay for private tutoring to help their children with the test. Children who’ve been tutored, or come from better-off homes are more likely to get most of the grammar school places. The evidence shows that very few children from poorer backgrounds will be able to afford private tutoring, and this will therefore reduce their chances of attending grammar schools. 


There is an argument that a quota system should be put into operation to enable poorer children with a lower exam score to get into grammar schools. Is this the way forward? The call is that by continuing to rank students by their exam scores the richest students will always be at top, and more poor students will continue to be excluded. The recent introduction of the Department of Education expansion cash is available to any ‘good school’.  The question is whether the Selective School Expansion Fund will increase places at grammar schools, giving access to bright poorer students. 


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