GRAMMAR SCHOOLSCategory: Education
In the last twenty years the public schools and the most successful grammar schools have become increasingly alike: and the increasing movement towards comprehensive schools, which threatens both of them, has forced them into a friendly alliance. The public schools have become more concerned with intellectual training, less with character-building: the big grammar schools — or some of them — have become more broadminded in their view of education: and both kinds of school have become more preoccupied with getting their pupils to university, and particularly to Oxbridge. Since the end of the first war, the trickle of grammar-school boys to Oxbridge has turned into a flood: most of them, without strong family connections or wealth, have known that their career depends on a university place, and both in intelligence and ambition they compete strongly with the public-school boys. In 1967—68, forty-eight per cent of the direct-grant grammar-school boys went on to university, and twenty-six per cent of the maintained grammar- school boys, compared to thirty per cent of boys from independent schools were recognized as efficient: Once at university, the confidence gap between the public-school and grammar-school boys has visibly diminished, and clothes and accent no longer distinguish the public-school undergraduate.
Most of the oldest, largest and most famous grammar schools are not state schools at all, but semi-dependent ones. These are the 178 ‘direct-grant’ grammar schools, financed partly by fees and funds, partly by the Department of Education (the direct grant). They earn the grant by taking not less than a quarter and now as many as sixty per cent of their pupils from the state system: the rest are fee-paying. They must have local government people on their boards of governors, but the local authorities cannot really interfere as they do with ordinary grammar schools. Some direct- grant schools are just small denominational schools (nearly a third are Roman Catholic) but the most successful are big and fairly secular: Bradford, Bristol, Manchester, Birkenhead; Haberdashers’ Aske’s and Latimer Upper, in London; the Royal Grammar School,
Newcastle; King Edward’s, Birmingham. They rival the top public schools with their traditions, huge sixth forms, and entries into university. In comparison with the 1,098 other grammar schools, “maintained” (and often interfered with) by the local authorities, they are privileged schools. In 1968 thirty-one per cent of boys and girls from direct-grant grammar schools went to university compared with 19.6 per cent from maintained ones. Their reputations help them to go on attracting the best teachers; they benefit too from the big city “catchment areas” as their recruiting territory is grue- somely called. Their competition for entry in some cities is as much as ten for each place.
The direct-grant schools are, as the Donnison Report of 1970 (para 115) said: “Predominantly middle class institutions. … Three out of four pupils come from the homes of white-collar workers: three out of five have fathers in professional or managerial occupations. Only one out of thirteen comes from a semi-skilled or unskilled worker’s family.” Many of the 178 schools are in the north: there are forty-six in Lancashire alone, nineteen in Yorkshire, seven in Bristol, and only twenty in Greater London. In some ways the direct-grant schools are the northern equivalent of the public schools, which recruit their boys predominantly from the south-east. The fact that many of the parents pay fees is thought by many to preserve the school’s independence and to encourage the interest of parents: “Here in Yorkshire they only pay for what they value,” one head-master told the Donnison Commission (para 166): And after demonstrating their interest not only in words but in cash, they watch their investments carefully.4
The top grammar schools do not yet have the same close association with the world of power as the big public schools; most of their boys go unobtrusively into the professions, industry or engineering; but a few direct-grant schools have acquired a special reputation. The most famous of them is Manchester Grammar School (MGS), with 1,400 boys in a low brick building outside the city, which has become a legendary stronghold of the “meritocracy”.