The term grammar school was coined in medieval times, but modern-day state grammar schools came into being as a result of the 1944 Education Act; this made provision for a tripartite system of education, open to all.
The tripartite system comprised of:
Grammar schools for the academically able
Tertiary schools for those with a technical bent
Secondary moderns for everyone else.
In reality very few tertiary schools were opened, secondary moderns became synonymous, in many areas, with 'sink school', and grammar schools, which were designed to select the top 25 per cent of academically able pupils by means of an 11+ examination, were criticised for being elitist and divisive.
Detractors of the grammar school system felt that the future of pupils was irretrievably determined at age 11.
Typically, grammar school students would study for the School Certificate - later O levels and A levels, with many continuing to further education. Until the introduction of CSEs in the sixties, most secondary modern pupils would leave school without any qualifications (many subsequently become qualified via trade apprenticeships or night school study).
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, many grammar schools were abolished in favour of comprehensive schools for all-comers. The Direct Grant Grammar Schools (Cessation of Grant) Regulations 1975 led to the abolition of many grammar schools - some became comprehensive schools, while others opted to become fee-paying schools. As a result of parental pressure and decisions at local level, some authorities managed to hang on to their grammar schools.
Today there are fewer than 200 state funded grammar schools; where they exist they are often viewed as a credible, free alternative to an independent school education, with places sought after and hard fought.
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