Grammar Schools: Do We Really Need It


A good education is a golden ticket to a better life. Yes, we certainly can survive without attending university or even school but what kind of life would it be? It has been proven that one of the main reasons of poverty is a lack of education. But what is a grammar school, how is it different from any other type of an educational institute and why it has a huge amount of controversy around it – that and much more you will find out in this essay.

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What is a grammar school?

Grammar school is a special type of school in the English-speaking countries that firstly appeared in the sixth century in England. At that time they were focused on teaching Latin and other subjects that were needed for doing a religious work. From the 12th century, the institution was considered to be the first step for those who decided to learn liberal arts, making Latin the main subject. In the 17th century, the term appeared in the dictionary as a school in which the learned languages are grammatically taught.

In 1994 in England and Wales was made an educational act that created for the first time a secondary education funded by the state and used across the nation. A grammar school became a part of the Tripartite System aiming to teach the academic curriculum to only 25 percent of the whole population of the school, choosing the most intellectually able students selected by the special examination. Those pupils had the greatest chances and opportunities from all of the rest. The special exam called 11-plus, only kids at the age of 11 can take it. The exam includes a range of different tests, like numeral reasoning, creative writing, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and English grammar. The grammar school’s selective system is made to divide students into two types: those who will attend universities in the future and get better jobs and those who will have less renowned professions. Kids can be tutored from the early age for this exam and some studies say that those, who came prepared, do better in the tests. The lucky children, who passed the exam, have to be ranked by how far away they live from the school and whether their siblings had attended it.

In 60th and 70th grammar schools divided into those who became completely independent, charging fees from their students and those who merged with other secondary schools forming new ones. The Tripartite System still exists in some parts of England nowadays and the remaining grammar schools have their history started in 16th century.

The controversy about grammar schools

The main purpose of grammar schools is thought to be to identify and choose those children, who are intellectually superior and have the potential to do well in school, separating them from those who can hold them back. Let’s take a closer look at supporters and opposes. Supporting arguments, including the one from Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, state:

  1. The current selective system is unfair because it is selecting judging by price and wealth.
  2. The Grammar school association conducted a study that showed that pupils from grammar schools produced more A grades on their A-Level tests in comparison to those from comprehensive schools.
  3. Grammar schools help those students who come from law-income families, providing equal opportunities for all of their students.
  4. Grammars schools help children from working class to gain social mobility.
  5. There is a high risk for smart kids of suffering from bullying in comprehensive schools, whereas grammar schools can ensure a safer learning environment.

Opposing arguments include:

  1. Some people say that grammar schools segregate children and waste talents of those who failed the exam at 11 years old. Moreover, some studies show that kids can experience a psychological effect after failing at a very young age.
  2. Others argue that social mobility in grammar schools is a myth and that they take only children from the middle class, who can afford private tuition. Some studies showed that children who failed the 11-plus exam are much poorer comparing to those who successfully passed it, making selective systems a bad prospect for children coming from law-income families.
  3. The number of places offered for girls and boys are created not by the exam results but by practical considerations.
  4. It is said that cognitive development can continue after the age of 11, which only means that the 11-plus exam simply ignores late developers.
  5. The critics of grammar schools say that kids are constantly under pressure in order to succeed during the examinations.

How do political parties feel about grammar schools?

The Labour party opposes grammar schools, claiming that they are lowering the quality of education. The Conservatives stand on the middle ground, saying that they support the expansion of all types of schools, no matter whether they are grammar schools or others. The Liberal Democrats are being indifferent, keeping the status quo, saying that they will not open any more grammar school, but also will not close the existing ones. 

So why having those debates? It is evident that academic excellence can be achieved in every type of school. I think it would be better to focus all of the energy for improving the educational system we already have and finding high-quality teachers, instead of creating needless institutions and selecting systems.

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