Grammar schools are state-funded, academically selective senior schools. The education a child receives at grammar school is paid for by the state unlike at private schools which provide education for a fee. There are currently 163 located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. Northern Ireland has a further 67 but there are none in Wales or Scotland.
Almost half of all grammar schools are in what are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for entry based on their performance in the 11+ entrance assessment. The others are in areas such as Barnet or Kingston, each with only a handful of schools.
Where are my local grammar schools?
It may not always be immediately obvious which schools are 'true' grammar schools. Some schools with 'grammar' in their name are not actually the real thing (eg The Manchester Grammar School, Royal Grammar School Guildford) and similarly, not all grammars feature the word 'grammar' in their name. Bournemouth School and Tiffin School are just two examples.
There are some areas of England with no grammars at all (eg Norfolk and Bristol) but you don't necessarily have to live in a certain area to have a chance of getting a place at one. Some schools accept applications from outside their own local authority, while others, such as Reading School and Ripon Grammar School, also function as state boarding schools. However, length of commute should be a consideration for families and the majority of schools now give preference to those living in defined catchment areas (sometimes called 'priority admissions areas'), or within a reasonable journey time from the school, with distance often used as a tie-break to decide between applicants when the school is oversubscribed. You should always check the admissions policies of the schools you're interested in to make sure it's actually possible for your child to go to school there. Don't waste your time if the prescribed admissions criteria mean a place is unattainable. Find schools which may interest you using The Good Schools Guide school search tool - filter by ticking 'state grammar schools' under 'School Associations'.
Are all grammar schools good?
Grammar schools are 'academically selective' which means that, unlike other state schools, the admissions process allows them to pick and choose which pupils they admit. They do this by making every applicant sit an entrance exam often called the 11+ - in Northern Ireland it is called the transfer test. It stands to reason that any school that can choose academically high performers is more likely to achieve good academic outcomes by the time GCSE and A levels come around. However, while some grammars' academic performance rivals that of the best private schools, there are others which are less impressive. Grammar schools follow the national curriculum (or stay very close to it) like any other state school.
The Good Schools Guide publishes a list of all English grammar schools ranked according to their Progress 8 score and we currently feature full reviews of eighty-seven of them. Other than reading our review, the best way to form an opinion on a school is to attend open days. If you can’t get to one of these designated days, many schools welcome parents on an appointment basis throughout the school term.
Why do grammar schools exist?
The term was coined in medieval times for schools which taught Latin grammar, but modern-day schools which carry the name are the result of the 1944 Education Act, which made provision for a tripartite system of education, open to all. The tripartite system comprised three types of school:
- Grammars for the academically most able
- Tertiary schools for those with a technical bent
- Secondary moderns for everyone else.
In reality, very few tertiary schools were opened and so secondary moderns tended to take all the children who weren't accepted into grammars. As a result, they became synonymous in many areas with 'sink school'.
In 1965, the government began phasing out grammar schools in favour of comprehensive schools for all-comers. While some became comprehensive, others opted to become fee-paying schools. This explains many of the fee-paying schools with 'grammar' in their name.
As a result of parental pressure and decisions at local level, some authorities hung on to their grammar schools, with places often hard fought for. In 1998 the government put an outright ban on new grammars being created, but many of the existing ones are now being funded to increase their intake, and several are bidding to open new 'satellite' schools many miles away.
Some people do not like grammar schools
Grammars divide opinion. Supporters believe they give any child bright enough to pass the 11+ a passport to a good education and future, regardless of social class. Detractors point out that very few children from low-income backgrounds (ie. those entitled to free school meals) end up going to these schools. Those who would like to abolish grammar schools describe them as elitist, divisive and damaging to the morale and esteem of children who feel themselves to be failures at the age of 11.
It can be little surprise that many view them as the preserve of the middle classes - with intensive private tuition and a house in a good area as precursors to entry.
The schools themselves are keen to dispel this view and try to ensure they attract the most able children, rather than those best prepared to pass entrance exams. Many schools continually review their entry procedure and examination structure in an attempt to thwart attempts by parents to skew the system. Some, such as King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, now reserve up to 20 percent of places for children on pupil premium.
Photo credit: Tiffin School, Kingston
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