Grammar schools are state secondary schools. They select their students through an entrance examination called the “11-plus”, which children take at age 11.
There are currently 164 grammar schools in England, out of about 3,408 secondary schools. There are a further 69 grammar schools in Northern Ireland. Children who either don’t apply for a grammar school place or don’t meet the required academic standard go to a non-selective comprehensive state school instead.
There are no state grammar schools in Scotland or Wales. They are all non-selective schools and possess no special status.
Grammar schools may be co-educational or single-gender. (To find out more about the difference between the two check out our article on this topic) Although grammar schools are selective, they are still state schools and thus funded by the government.
Interestingly, there are also eight bilateral schools in England. These schools admit people of all academic abilities. However, they do reserve a few places in a ‘grammar stream’ for pupils who meet the academic requirements.
When Were They First Introduced?
Grammar schools have existed since the 16th century, but the modern grammar school concept was created with the 1944 Education Act. They were one of the three types of school forming the Tripartite System, the other two being the secondary modern and secondary technical schools.
The grammar schools were created with the intention of teaching the most academically-able 25% of students as selected by the 11-plus exam.
This system effectively seemed to divide pupils into two categories. Those destined to go on to university and acquire better jobs, and those considered more suitable for less celebrated professions such as going into trades.
Grammar School Curriculum
Usually the GCSE curriculum in grammar schools is similar to that in comprehensive schools. They both offer the same core subjects. However, Bob McCartey, chair of the National Grammar Schools Association said that “Grammar schools tend to give more weight to academic subjects whereas comprehensives may offer more vocational courses.”
For instance, grammar schools tend to offer biology, chemistry and physics as separate subjects instead of a combined science qualification. They also offer a greater range of languages such as Greek and Latin as well as specialist subjects such as Politics.
Moreover, grammar schools have more flexibility over their teaching and curriculum as a lot of them have converted to academy status. This allows their pupils to sit some GCSEs in Year 9 and 10 instead of doing them altogether in Year 11.
Applying For a Grammar School Place
In order to apply for a grammar school place, students must take the aforementioned 11-plus exam in England (and the secondary transfer test in Northern Ireland) at the start of Year 6.
This exam assesses whether the pupils are able enough to learn in a grammar school environment with peers of a similar academic standard.
Grammar school entrance exams usually involve the following sections:
- Numerical reasoning (maths)
- Verbal reasoning
- English comprehension, punctuation and grammar
- Non-verbal reasoning
- Creative writing
The pass marks for the 11-plus exam vary and so does the required standard. Whether your child is successful in getting a place or not depends on how their peers perform in the exam.
Bear in mind that simply passing the 11-plus exam does not guarantee a grammar school place. This might be the case when schools have fewer places than children who pass. The schools would then offer places to pupils who have achieved the very highest marks after ranking them in order.
Difference Between State, Grammar and Private Schools
State schools are divided into two types: academies and maintained state schools.
Academies are publicly funded, but they are independent. This means that they exercise more control over the curriculum and various other aspects of the school. There is a funding agreement in place for them which keeps them accountable for their performance.
On the other hand, state schools are overseen by the local authority. They have to follow the national curriculum and adhere to national wage and conditions for teachers.
Grammar schools are also state-funded. However, they select their pupils using the 11-plus exam as mentioned above.
Private schools can be selective and often use an admissions test, like grammar schools, to choose their pupils.
They charge a fee to attend. This ranges from £13,194 to £30,369 on average per year.
The more expensive private schools are usually boarding schools, where the fee covers living costs during term time.
Private schools often have scholarships which can reduce their fee. These are based on academic potential or other talents such as sports or music. Some private schools also offer discounts if multiple siblings attend the school
Advantages of Attending Grammar Schools
The grammar school system remains to be a constant topic for debate. People in favour of grammar school say:
- Removal of the ‘postcode lottery’ system which is used to gain secondary school places based on catchment area.
- Their motto is academic achievement and discipline. They achieve consistently strong exam results.
- They are providers of an outstanding state education. Former grammar school pupils who are now distinguished people include John Lennon, Boris Johnson, Margaret Thatcher and Mick Jagger.
- They encourage social mobility and diversity as they provide an independent-style education to students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Gaining a place at a top grammar school not only means having access to a comprehensive education but also a network of influential friends. There is also evidence that the friendship ties formed at school affects academic achievement and future success.
- They promote core subjects and traditional teaching methods.
- They provide excellent opportunities and offer a range of extracurricular activities. This is especially advantageous for students from poorer backgrounds. Grammar schools enable the brightest students to study at top schools irrespective of their social background.
Drawbacks of Grammar Schools
As with everything else, grammar school has its share of disadvantages as well. Critics often argue that:
- The 11-plus system favours families who can afford tutoring. Schools don’t provide preparation for this exam so parents have to turn to tutoring facilities, which some of them might not be able to afford, to improve their child’s performance.
- Some children who may gain a grammar school place through intensive tutoring might struggle to keep up once their studies commence.
- The thresholds for 11-plus change every year and thus, there is no consistency in which pupils earn a place.
- The grammar school system is thought to be divisive. It can have an adverse effect on late developers. These students are denied the chance of reaching their full academic potential because of doing poorly in an entrance exam at the age of 11.
- The money would be better spent helping comprehensive schools which are often cash-strapped.
- The system creates a divide between children based on their socioeconomic status. Those from wealthier backgrounds progress on to university and attain good jobs. But children from working-class backgrounds become destined for low paying jobs.
Top Grammar Schools in London
In order to make the process of deciding which grammar schools to apply to, we have included a list of the top grammar schools in London. These are separated by region below:
- The Henrietta Barnett School
- St. Michael’s Catholic High School
- Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School for Boys
- Bexley Grammar School
- Beths Grammar School
- Chislehurst and Sidcup School
- Townley Grammar School
- St. Olave’s and St. Saviour’s Grammar School
- Newstead Wood School
- The Latymer School
Kingston Upon Thames
- Tiffin Girls’ School
- Tiffin School
- Woodford County High School for Girls
- Wilson’s School for Boys
- Wallington High School for Girls
- Wallington County Grammar School
- Sutton Grammar School
- Nonsuch High School for Girls
A full list of all grammar schools in England can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_grammar_schools_in_England
Top Grammar Schools in the UK
Here is a list of the top ten selective grammar schools, out of 164 in the UK, that stood out last year as being the top for GCSE results. Most of the these schools had almost 100% of their pupils achieving more than 5 A*-C grades.
- Queen Elizabeth's School, Barnet
- Colchester County High School for Girls
- Nonsuch High School for Girls
- Beaconsfield High School
- Kendrick Girls' Grammar School
- Dr Challoner's High School
- Altrincham Grammar School for Girls
- Stroud High School
- The Henrietta Barnet School
- King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford
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