Grammar School in London

BBC NEWS | UK | Education

pupilsGrammar schools have been accused of being socially divisive

The Conservatives are abandoning their support for grammar schools, saying academic selection is unfair to poorer families and limits social mobility. Education spokesman David Willetts said his party wanted to back the new city academies in England.

What are grammar schools?

Grammar schools are state schools which select their pupils on the basis of academic ability. Pupils in their final year of primary school sit an exam known as the 11-plus which determines whether or not they get a place. There is no central 11-plus exam, with papers being set on a local basis.

How are they funded?

Much the same as other maintained schools. Central government allocates funds, largely on a per pupil basis, to local authorities. A local funding formula then determines how much each school receives.

How many grammar schools are there and where are they?

There are 164 grammar schools in England. Ten local education authorities, for example Kent and Buckinghamshire, have more than 25% of their pupils in grammar schools and are considered to be fully selective. Other areas, like Greater London, have grammar schools in "pockets". Northern Ireland currently operates a selective system, but the 11-plus transfer test will be sat for the last time in autumn 2008 for entry in 2009. It is yet to be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly what will happen thereafter. There are no grammar schools in Wales and Scotland.

Why is there renewed controversy over grammar schools?

Critics of the system say these schools have been "hijacked" by the middle classes. Many parents have their children privately and intensively coached for the 11-plus exam, often from the age of eight or younger. Anecdotally, there is evidence that some parents put their children into a private primary school to increase their chances of performing well in the 11-plus exam. With the bar so high, critics say the system disadvantages children from less affluent or ambitious homes. Research suggests children from poor homes who get in to grammar schools flourish there. The problem is, relatively few get in. There are also concerns for late developers: opponents of the system say it "writes off" children who do not get a grammar school place at a very tender age and brands the majority, who do not "pass" the 11-plus, as failures.

What do grammar school supporters say about that?

That only the opponents of selection use the disparaging term "failures". Children develop at different rates and therefore need different educational opportunities. There is selection everywhere: popular comprehensives choose on the basis of nearness to the school - which can mean ability to pay high house prices, so able children from poorer backgrounds lose out.

Interesting facts:

Whitgift School is an independent day school educating approximately 1,400 boys aged 10 to 18 in South Croydon, London in a 45-acre (18 ha) parkland site.
It was founded in 1596 by the Archbishop of Canterbury John Whitgift and is part of the Whitgift Foundation...

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