Just Sociology

Grammar Schools: Debates Origins and Opposition

Grammar schools have been a topic of educational debates for decades, with polarizing views on their effectiveness in providing quality education to students. The Tripartite system, which established grammar schools, secondary moderns, and technical schools, faced substantial criticism and was eventually abolished in 1976.

Despite this, grammar schools continue to exist for students with high academic abilities, which can only be achieved through an entrance test. The purpose of this article is to explore the various facets of grammar schools and present arguments for and against their existence.

What are grammar schools? Grammar schools are academic institutions in which the primary mode of admission is through rigorous selection by ability, usually through an entrance test.

These schools were established under the Tripartite system in 1944, where students were categorized into three: grammar schools for academic education, secondary moderns for vocational education, and technical schools for technical education. The entrance test is commonly an IQ test designed to find the cream of the academic crop.

Selection by ability ensures that students with high academic and intellectual abilities receive quality education in the form of a rigorous curriculum, extracurricular activities, and specialist teachers. How successful was the Tripartite system?

The Tripartite system was designed to be a ladder of opportunity, allowing anyone with the necessary academic ability to be educated in grammar schools. The system aimed to provide a fair distribution of resources in terms of education while ensuring that all students received education tailored to their abilities.

However, the system was consistently criticized for being a faulty product of its era, which underscored the value of hierarchy and class. Critics argue that there was no parity of esteem between grammar schools and the rest of the schools in the tripartite system.

As a result, students were labeled, and those who attended secondary moderns faced a stigma. The Tripartite system failed to place students in the best environment to suit their abilities and aspirations.

Why was the Tripartite System abolished? The U.K. government abolished the Tripartite system following the Education Act of 1976.

The comprehensive system, which aimed to provide secondary education without the segregation of academic and vocational education, replaced it. The system aimed to abolish the 11+, which gave students failing on the entrance exam necessarily sub-standard education.

The comprehensive system aimed to provide a fully comprehensive education system, without division by academic or vocational aspirations. The state grammar schools became the preserve of the few students who passed the entrance exam, but the rest of the students were systematically denied quality education as a result of this selective process.

Arguments for grammar schools

Proponents of grammar schools argue that they provide a ladder of opportunity for the academically and intellectually gifted students from working-class families who cannot afford private schools’ tuition fees. Grammar schools can provide quality education to students who would not otherwise have access to it.

Selecting students by ability ensures that students who excel in academic environments receive an education tailored to their abilities, which can prepare them for a competitive global job market. Additionally, grammar schools provide an alternative form of selection that bypasses the restrictions of selection criteria that favor parents with wealth.

Arguments against grammar schools

Critics argue that grammar schools are unfair in that students who come from working-class backgrounds do not have access to the same private tuition opportunities that wealthier individuals would. Additionally, grammar schools’ existence is seen as a reproduction of class inequality as the education provided to students is high-quality and limited to select individuals only.

The introduction of grammar schools can lead to a policy upheaval that could impact the rest of the education system. The argument is that resources would be better allocated to improving the standards for all students in comprehensive settings, thereby providing an equitable education system for all.

Living and breathing example of someone from a working class background benefitting from a state-grammar education

Personal experience can provide a unique insight into any debate. One such example is that of this author, who comes from a working-class background but received a state-grammar education.

This education was transformative and provided me with opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. The grammar school environment and selection by ability allowed me to be part of a community of like-minded individuals that pushed me to excel in my academic pursuits.

Furthermore, my state-grammar education helped me to secure a position with a global company, which has provided me with access to a variety of career opportunities.

School motto and its implications

School mottos play a vital role in creating the ethos of the school. At my state-grammar school, the motto was Knowledge and Duty, which embodies the hegemonic forces that were present in the school environment.

The implication of this motto is that the students are there to gain knowledge and fulfill their duty to the school and eventually to society. The motto implies that there is a moral obligation to work hard and excel academically.

The hegemonic forces at work further accentuate this idea, as those who do not do well academically are seen as failing in their duty to themselves and society.


In conclusion, the debate surrounding the existence of grammar schools is polarising, with strong arguments for and against. While proponents argue that by providing an education in selective academic environments, students may be better equipped to compete in the global job market, the downside is that this approach may be regressive instead of progressive in terms of social mobility.

Furthermore, the idea of selective education may be seen as elitist and based on class distinctions, thus defeating the purpose of providing an equitable education to all. Personal experiences, such as receiving a state-grammar education, can provide valuable insights into any debate, but the implications of school mottos should be analyzed with a critical eye.Grammar schools have been the subject of debate for decades, with proponents arguing that selective education provides opportunities for academically and intellectually gifted students from all backgrounds, while critics argue that grammar schools are exclusive, lead to social inequality, and detract from comprehensive education.

In the current political climate, plans for the expansion of grammar schools have been met with opposition from nearly everyone who knows anything about education. This addition to the article will explore the opposition to grammar school plans and the history of grammar schools.

Opposition from nearly everyone who knows anything about education

The proposed expansion of grammar schools has been met with opposition from education experts, teachers, unions, and more. One of the primary concerns of opponents is that selective education leads to social segregation, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds being denied access to selective schools.

Critics also argue that selective schools increase pressure on students and promote an overemphasis on qualifications, limiting the development of other skills that students need. Moreover, opponents argue that selective schooling undermines the ethos of education that values diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities.

Unpopularity of the policy

The grammar school policy was one of the most unpopular of Theresa May’s government. Critics argue that the desire to expand grammar schools is an attempt to satisfy a small and vocal segment of Tory Party members.

This reflects May’s fractious relationship with her party members, who were more interested in building new grammar schools than expanding existing ones. The idea of expanding grammar schools was not supported by the general public, who ranked education low on their priority list in a survey.

Origins of Grammar Schools

Grammar schools were originally known as “scholas grammaticales” and were established during the Middle Ages. These schools were founded by monarchs, nobles, and wealthy merchants, with the primary aim of educating poor scholars in the classical texts of ancient Greece and Rome.

The scholars were selected based on their intelligence and potential, and were granted full scholarships to attend the schools which were intended to provide an alternative path to ordination in the Church for gifted children from poor backgrounds.

Expansion during the Tripartite System

The modern grammar school system traces its roots back to the 1944 Butler Education Act, which established a tripartite system of secondary education. The act required local authorities to create schools that catered to different types of abilities based on an IQ test.

The three types of schools were known as grammar schools, secondary modern schools, and technical schools. The aim was to provide a range of education tailored to students’ abilities, with parity of esteem between the different types of schools.

Despite the noble rhetoric surrounding the policy, the result was to create a divided education system based on flawed selection criteria that favored one section of society over another.


The debate surrounding the validity and effectiveness of grammar schools continues to this day. The expansion of these schools has been met with opposition from various quarters, and their unpopular and exclusionary nature is clear.

The historical origins of grammar schools were intended to provide education for gifted, but disadvantaged students. However, the selective approach has led to a skewed system that favors some while limiting opportunities for others.

The history of grammar schools shows the need for education systems to evolve, and the current debate on grammar schools reflects the need to find a more equitable way of providing education that reflects the needs of society. In conclusion, the debate surrounding grammar schools is complex, and the arguments for and against their existence are polarizing.

Proponents argue that selective education provides opportunities for academically and intellectually gifted students from all backgrounds, while critics argue that grammar schools are exclusive, lead to social inequality, and detract from comprehensive education. The opposition to grammar school plans highlights the need for a more equitable education system that reflects the needs of society while providing equal opportunities for all.

The article aimed to provide a balanced discussion of grammar schools, highlighting the arguments for and against their existence and their historical origins. The FAQs are included below to provide readers with additional information on key topics and help answer some common questions or concerns readers may have.


Q: What is the tripartite system, and why was it abolished? A: The tripartite system was established following the 1944 Butler Education Act, providing a three-tier system with grammar, secondary modern, and technical schools.

It was abolished in 1976 because the selective nature of grammar schools was seen by many to be damaging to social mobility and to reinforce the class divide. Q: What are the arguments for grammar schools?

A: The main argument centers on providing opportunities for academically and intellectually gifted students from all backgrounds to receive high-quality education that matches their abilities. Proponents also see grammar schools as a means of bypassing the financial barriers and social inequalities associated with expensive private education.

Q: What are the arguments against grammar schools? A: Critics of grammar schools argue that the selection process is exclusionary, that the schools reinforce social inequalities, and that they detract from the comprehensive education system.

The argument is that resources should be concentrated on removing inequality and improving the standards of all schools. Q: Who is opposed to the expansion of grammar schools?

A: Opposition to the expansion of grammar schools has been vocal from education experts, teachers, and unions, and public opinion also appears to be against it. Q: What is the history of grammar schools?

A: Grammar schools date back to the Middle Ages when they were established to provide education to poor scholars in classical texts. The modern grammar school system was established in 1944 as part of a three-tiered system of education, which was abolished in 1976.

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