Grammar schools have a long history in the UK, with around 1400 existing during their heyday in the early 1960s. However, today there are none remaining in Scotland or Wales and only 160 in England, sporadically distributed between counties. There are also 67 grammar schools in Northern Ireland.
Originally, they were linked to universities or churches, but in the sixteenth century many were established by rich benefactors, paying a Master to teach children Latin and Greek. By the Victorian era the curriculum had broadened to include mathematics and science
Modern grammar schools are generally recognised as having a more academically focused curriculum with expectations of high performance from their students - the majority moving on to higher education.
Distribution of Grammar Schools
The number of grammar schools has declined rapidly leaving a very patchy distribution remaining throughout England. Some counties have a large number of grammar schools, such as Kent with 32, while others have very few or none at all.
Gloucestershire has a total of seven grammar schools; two co-educational in Cheltenham and Gloucester, three all-girl (two in Gloucester and one in Stroud) and two all-boy in Gloucester and Stroud.
Are Grammar Schools Better?
There is an argument that since grammar schools are selective on academic ability, they are bound to be ‘better’ academically than comprehensive schools. Whilst there is an element of truth in this statement, the value that schools add to student performance can be argued as the most important way a school can help a child.
Some may argue that comprehensive schools are better resourced and equipped to deal with special needs or other support a child may need since they may have a greater range of student abilities. Comprehensive schools may also have a larger number of students overall and are able to secure funding for more expensive specialist facilities such as drama studios or media centres. However, as grammar schools have increased their intake, they have secured funding to develop particular areas of the curriculum, especially if they have been able to demonstrate an increased number of pupil premium students.
Pros and Cons of Grammar Schools
Every school is different and it can be helpful to research each school as much as possible; an Open Day or Evening will help you get a feeling for the ethos of the school. Usually current students will show you around, giving you and your child a sample of the grammar school environment.
Grammar schools often have excellent examination results, partly because they tend to focus on this aspect of the curriculum. There is often a focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, but that is not necessarily the case for all schools. Some may have a particular focus on languages or music and drama.
This emphasis on academic achievement does not necessarily suit all children. Some may have more practical or vocational interests which are better met at a comprehensive school. However, good comprehensive schools might be a better fit for some children of all academic abilities.
Should I Choose a Grammar School?
There is no definitive answer to this question. Every child is different, and some may be better suited to the grammar school environment than others. Some parents believe that grammar schools are part of an inherently unfair system since there are a disproportionately small number of children from lower income families at most grammar schools. Many parents also believe that tutoring gives a significant advantage to children taking the grammar school entrance test and therefore wealthier parents are more likely to be able to secure a place for their child. However, we would reassure parents that many children succeed in getting into grammar school with little or no tutoring. One of the main purposes of this book is to enable you to prepare your child for the test yourself with minimal additional outlay.
We’re assuming that visitors to our website have not ruled out the possibility of their child attending grammar school and the ultimate decision on whether to try for grammar schools will be based on a number of factors. These will include assessment of your child’s academic ability, the specialisms of a particular grammar school (such as drama, music, languages or science), ease of travel to the grammar school (including costs) and the reputation or performance of your local comprehensive school.