Expert advice on the admissions process for some of the UK's top grammar schools.
There are 163 State Grammar schools in Britain. These are non-fee paying state schools that offer a selective entry at 11 plus.
The UK system used to be one of grammar schools and secondary moderns. All children took an examination at the end of primary school which decided whether you went to the local grammar school or the secondary modern. This was often followed by different examination streams. For example, grammar schools would typically take O-Levels and secondary moderns would take CSEs and focus on vocational training.
In the 1960s and 70s, there was a drive to stop the division of children at 11. As a result, Comprehensive schools were created. Grammar schools and secondary moderns converted to the new comprehensive format. However, some areas and some schools resisted this approach.
Firstly, this meant that some Grammar Schools decided to become private fee-paying schools rather than become comprehensive. This means that today there are some schools called Grammar Schools which in reality are fee-paying.
Secondly, some areas resisted the move to comprehensive schools – areas like Kent, Essex and Buckinghamshire resisted it wholeheartedly. They maintained the grammar school system. However, the old secondary moderns were so discredited that they usually changed the names of these schools. In some areas the old secondary moderns became called comprehensive schools – although they were effectively not. In other areas the names of the secondary modern schools was changed to something different, for example, High School.
Thirdly, some areas embraced a hybrid model whereby they reduced the number of grammar schools and sometimes changed their names to remove the word grammar. However, they maintained some of these selective schools.
Finally, some areas maintained some selective element for some of the admissions to one or two of the schools in their areas while refusing to admit that these schools were running a grammar school system. An example of this would be Graveney School in Wandsworth.
How do you get into a Grammar school?
Parents should choose very carefully which is the system of the areas that they are looking at before applying to a school.
The schools usually have an admissions process that allows people from all across the country to apply to that school. However, in practice, many of them have quotas or preferential treatment for local people such that it is very hard for pupils from outside an area to get into the school regardless of exam performance. Parents should check very carefully the criteria for each school or school area to avoid disappointment.
Typically, the schools all use a maths, English and reasoning stage. While they will sometimes maintain that this is set locally, it is almost always based on one of several providers. Parents can therefore prepare by helping their child study past papers from the institution that writes the core exam papers.
Schools will maintain that pupils do not need to prepare. This is a nonsense and parents should not be deceived. The record of privately educated vs state-educated admissions to grammar schools is regularly published and it shows convincingly that those from a prep school background are significantly more likely to pass their grammar school exam. This tells you that a child can be prepped for the test.
The competition for such schools is fierce and often those at the top grammar schools will have to have had a performance comparable or even above that of entry to the top tier London private day schools.
Grammar school admissions guides
We have compiled guides on the process at grammar schools in London and the surrounding areas. Find out how tests are scored and what the pass mark is for various counties. We have covered the grammar schools in: