grammar schools

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grammar schools. In Roman times schools of grammar taught language and literature. This type of school and its curriculum was adopted by early Christian educators, such as Alcuin. In 826 Pope Eugenius required bishops to ensure that grammar schools were founded in their dioceses.

The term was first used in England in the 14th cent. Grammar schools were under ecclesiastical supervision, but endowments were made by other institutions, such as guilds, charities, and hospitals. The grammar school was recognized as providing a training for future churchmen: Henry VI founded Eton College (1440), and Cardinal Wolsey Ipswich Grammar School (1528). From Tudor times, merchants, traders, and a number of women founded schools—Peter Blundell at Tiverton (1599) and Lady Alice Owen at Islington (1613).

After the Restoration, the grammar schools declined: they were described by Lord Chief Justice Kenyon in 1795 as ‘empty walls without scholars, and everything neglected but the receipt of salaries and emoluments’. Attempts to widen the curriculum to allow mathematics and modern languages to be taught were rejected in the Eldon judgment 1805; but in 1840 a Grammar School Act allowed a wider range of subjects. Some of the schools had developed into non-local boarding schools: from these emerged the public school. The Endowed Schools Act 1869 helped to reform grammar schools, following the report of the Taunton Commission in 1868, including provision for girls. The 1902 Education Act established a system of municipal and county schools alongside the older grammar schools, which were popularly known as grammar schools. Because of the spread of comprehensive education from the mid-1960s, by 1990 only about 7 per cent of local authorities had retained grammar schools. Growing disenchantment with comprehensive education led to the grammar schools being regarded in the later 1990s with more favour.

Peter Gordon