When making the decision on what school to send your child to, the many different options can be confusing and stressful for parents and students alike. This is especially with the different types of schools such as private, grammar, state and comprehensive. As moving to secondary school is already a stressful time for families, these sorts of choices and the lack of easy-to-understand information about them make it even harder to be sure that you are making the right decision for your child. However, this article will inform you of everything you need to know about grammar schools, to help you make the right choice and feel confident about this step in your child’s education.
While it is impossible to say whether grammar school is better for your family simply through a list of factors, there are many positives to the grammar school system over comprehensive schools. For example, they often gain higher exam results and focus on academic achievement over other areas, allowing pupils more chance at entry to the top universities while still being free. However, they may offer less vocational course choice than other schools and require stressful entrance tests to get a place.
Disclaimer: The points expressed in this article are the opinion of one writer. You should conduct your own research before deciding on which schools you feel would be most suitable for your child.
While this paragraph should have answered some of your basic questions about grammar schools, this is a complex topic. Please read on for a fuller understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of grammar schools.
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Are grammar schools better than secondary schools?
In the UK, despite their low numbers, grammar schools remain quite popular. This is mostly due to the fact that they get very good exam results from their students at GCSE and A-Level. In 2021, 68% of their GCSE entries in England were a grade 7 or above. As this article by the Guardian states.
They may also get higher chances at places in top universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Out of the 80 schools with the greatest number of students going to Oxford or Cambridge University, 22 came from grammar schools. For more information about this, check out this article from The Spectator.
However, the hard work that is required of students to pass the 11 Plus test can cause extreme stress and even mental health problems for students, especially for those who do not pass. It can cause feelings of inadequacy and failure, which at such a young age can be very detrimental for children. This leads some parents to decide not to put their children in for the test, allowing them only to progress at their own rate without the added stress of tests. For more on the stress that the 11 Plus exam can cause, check out this guide by 11 Plus Guide.
Secondary modern and comprehensive schools are also still very good, with some being academies also so having all the same benefits of flexibility and freedom in the curriculum as many grammar schools do. They also often have a wider range of subjects and may have a larger student body so more chances for children to make friends. They are also not necessarily academically less rigorous, as they get all students to a good standard rather than those that are already testing highly to a better standard. For more information on this, check out this guide by The School Run.
Is grammar school right for your child?
Generally, grammar schools tend to be a good fit for students that enjoy intense academic environments and subjects, and those who thrive in high pressure environments. On the other side, comprehensive schools are fit for a wider range of pupils and often do better for those who enjoy many subjects. This is especially those that are not purely academic, and who want a more balanced education.
Grammar schools usually have the same core curriculum as other schools, especially in the core subjects. However, once students reach GCSE the choices are sometimes less varied. For example, comprehensives may offer some vocational courses such as BTECs, whereas grammar schools tend to focus on the academic side.
Grammar schools often offer further maths, triple science or separate science qualifications, and a large range of modern languages to their students. They may also offer specialist subjects such as politics, economics and psychology. However, in a comprehensive, BTECs in Music Technology, Childcare or many other areas may also be available, for pupils seeking a more vocational route.
Many grammar schools are also now academies. This gives them flexibility with teaching and curriculum, for example allowing students to take GCSEs early, rather than doing them all at once, and also to change the timings of terms and school days. This is great for students who may be ready to do exams earlier than others, such as in Year 10 or 11, as they can then move on to more advanced work or focus on their other subjects. For more information about all of this, check out this article by The School Run.
Are grammar schools better than private schools?
Grammar schools and private schools are sometimes placed in the same category for parents. Both being schools where pupils are pushed to the highest levels of academic achievement they can and gain their full potential. However, there are some key differences between them.
Overall, it is hard to say whether grammar schools are better than private ones, as it is a personal decision for each family. It is important to look at all of the options in your area to see which suit you best, as this can help you to find the best suited school for your child.
Both types of school remove the “postcode lottery” system of school places, allowing students to attend extremely good schools even if they are not in the catchment area. This is positive for families that may live in an area with less good schools, or that may not have good results overall.
Both types tend to focus on academic achievement and discipline, preparing students for university with rigorous focus on core subjects and traditional teaching methods. They also both usually offer excellent facilities and extra-curricular opportunities, which broaden children’s horizons and give them a balanced educational background for the future.
Grammar schools also open up a private style education to pupils who would not otherwise be able to afford this. This can increase social mobility and diversity while providing an outstanding education that may not otherwise have been available to students.
However, both types of school can lead to an attainment gap in their catchment areas, with comprehensive schools losing the best pupils and therefore struggling to get good results and high engagement in class. They also often both take pupils based on admissions tests, which can be stressful, and place an unnecessary burden on students to do well at a very young age.
For more information about the pros and cons of grammar schools compared to private schools, check out this article from Think Academy.
Do grammar schools still exist?
For many people in the UK, the grammar school system may seem like a thing of the past, as a law in 1998 prevented any new grammar schools from opening. However, grammar schools established before that law still exist in some places. For more information, check out this article by Relocate Magazine.
There are only around 163 grammar schools in England, out of 3000 state secondary schools, and 69 in Northern Ireland. In Scotland and Wales there are no grammar schools, although some may retain the name, but they do not have different status from other state comprehensive schools.
Grammar schools are state secondary schools who, unlike comprehensive schools, are allowed to select all of their pupils based on academic ability. This selection is usually made through a test, commonly known as the “11 Plus”, taken by pupils at age 11. Pupils who pass the test usually go on to the local grammar school, whereas those who do not usually go to a “secondary modern school”.
Grammar schools may be single-sex or co-educational (although most are co-educational in sixth form). They are state-funded despite being selective, but do not receive extra funding compared to other schools in their areas.
Some grammar schools are now mixed with comprehensives, in what is known as a bilateral school. There are 8 of these in the UK. They admit pupils of all abilities but have a certain number of places in a “grammar stream” for those who pass the 11 plus and are of higher academic ability. For more information, check out this article by The School Run.
For more information on what grammar schools are and how they work, please read this helpful Think Student guide.
How do you get into grammar school?
Each school has their own entry requirements. However, most places are offered based on a test known as the 11 Plus, or the Transfer Test in Northern Ireland. For more on the 11 Plus exam, see below. To learn more about the Transfer Test, check out this article by The School Run.
Parents can apply for a place for their child at a grammar school in any area. However, these schools are almost always oversubscribed, especially those with high results. Therefore, even if your child passes the 11 Plus, they may not get a place at the grammar school if you do not live in their catchment area. If you are concerned about this, check with the school and the local authority about the entry requirements, to ensure you are choosing a school that you actually have a chance of a place for your child at.
There are also some “super-selective” schools in the country, who only select the very top percentage of the selection test results. These schools are even harder to get into and require very hard work for a chance at a place in the admissions test. For more on super-selective schools, check out this article by The School Run.
The most important step to getting into a grammar school is going to take a look at the school you are aiming for. Visiting the website, looking at prospectuses and talking to current pupils and teachers are the best ways to get to know a school. This will also help you to know what the steps are for gaining a place, which may be more complex in some places than simply taking a test.
If you do not know which schools near you are grammar schools, check out the National Grammar Schools Association website, here. This lists all of the grammar schools in the country, as well as key information about each to help you come to a decision.
How do you take the 11 Plus exam?
As discussed, the usual grammar school entry requirement is based on the 11 Plus exam, or the Northern Ireland Transfer Test in Northern Ireland. These exams can cause a lot of stress for families, but it is important to approach them calmly, otherwise you can risk causing mental health issues and extreme anxiety for your child.
These tests are typically sat in early September of Year 6. Some counties may register children for the test automatically, with only those who do not want to take it opting out. However, an increasing number of schools require families to register themselves for the assessment during summer term in Year 5. If you are confused on how to do this ask your child’s primary school or your local council for guidance. For more information about booking the 11 Plus exam, check out this Think Student article.
The 11 Plus exam is intended to see if pupils are suited to the type of learning given in a grammar school environment. It involves tests based on numerical and verbal reasoning (maths and English problem solving), English comprehension, punctuation and grammar, non-verbal reasoning, and sometimes creative writing. These are often not areas studied by primary students, so parents often have private tutors, to help prepare their children for the exam.
The test is usually sat in your child’s primary school. However, if they do not go to a local authority school where the grammar school is they may have to take it at the grammar school. This is to ensure test conditions are fair.
For more information on the 11 Plus exam and how to take it, please see this helpful guide by The School Run.