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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
grammar school

Originally the term for any school in medieval Europe. The schools taught Latin grammar and were religious institutions, many of them attached to cathedrals and monasteries, others founded as an act of charity. It has been calculated that by the 14C there were some 400 grammar schools in England and Wales for a population of about 2.5 million. Such schools were also often called high schools, particularly in Scotland; the term was first used for one established in 1519 in Edinburgh.

These schools were free, and by the 16C they were widely referred to as public schools – by contrast with the smaller and more elementary private schools, for which a fee was charged. Later many of the greatest grammar schools evolved into the modern *public schools (essentially fee-paying establishments), leaving the original name of grammar school for those in which tuition had remained free. In the modern world the major part of any free school's funding has come not from charitable sources but from government grants, and so they have become known as grant-aided or direct grant schools.

The high standard of grammar school education meant great pressure on the available places, and in the mid-20C selection was made by an examination which children in all *state schools sat at the age of 11 or 12 – the so-called eleven-plus. Those who passed won a place at a grammar school, with education to the age of 18 and a good chance of going on to university; the rest were offered a lesser standard of education to the age of 15 at secondary modern schools ('modern' in their curriculum, compared with the classical tradition of the grammar schools).

The finality of this judgement at such an early age, potentially unjust and socially divisive, led to the gradual introduction from the 1950s of *comprehensive schools. Many of the best-known grammar schools (such as Manchester and the original King Edward's in Birmingham) chose to become public schools rather than abandon the principle of selection. By the late 1980s about 90% of state secondary schools in Britain were comprehensive, leaving only 10% of children divided between the surviving grammar and secondary modern schools. The existence of grammar schools remains a subject of fierce controversy in the early 21st century.

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