Grammar, private and state schools. Do you know the difference?


A few months ago a parent brought their son to my centre to get assessed. The parents wanted their 9 year old son to start preparing for grammar school but when I asked which grammar school they said the name of a private school. The family had friends living elsewhere in the country whose children were attending grammar school and because there aren’t any grammar schools in our county, they assumed that private school meant grammar school. It’s not the first time I’ve come across this situation so I think its time to write things out in black and white.

Every 11-year-old in primary school has the choice of going to either a state school, private school or grammar school. So let me list now the differences between the three types of schools:

State Schools

These are also known as comprehensive schools and the majority of UK children attend them. State schools are government-funded and any child between the ages of 11 and 16 can attend. Some state schools have a sixth form attached and therefore cater for children up to 18 years of age.

A state schools performance can vary from year to year. This information can be found out from school league tables which are published every year. A child may attend a top performing state school in year 7, but there is no guarantee that it will still be top when the child is in year 8 or year 11.

A top state school will be heavily over-subscribed and families will even move house to get their children a place.

Grammar Schools

Grammar schools are also government-funded but only children who pass their entrance exams can attend. These entrance exams are commonly known as the 11+ and are taken in year 6 (age 10/11). The exams can cover one or more of the following 4 areas: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, english and maths. The dates of the exams are set by the schools and children usually need to score 80% or more to pass the exams. Many parents start preparing their children for the 11+ exam as young as age 7.

Grammar school are highly selective and have a strong emphasis on academic achievement. The standards and expectations at grammar schools are high and it is for this reason that you will find many grammar schools at the top of national school league tables.

Private Schools

Private schools are not government-funded – although some private schools give bursaries and scholarships to a select number of students each year. Parents may choose to send their children to private schools because of the smaller class sizes. These children are more confident, driven and have access to a greater range of extra-curricular activities. Plus mixing with affluent families builds contacts and improves their chances of getting better jobs.

Given the choice, which type of school would you choose? For me, grammar schools win hands down, but to get my son into one of those he needs to be a child genius. I think I’ll let him decide.

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2 comments on “Grammar, private and state schools. Do you know the difference?

  1. I would say private school with no reservations, I go to one of the best private schools in the country, and the oldest school in the world and my brother goes to one of the best grammar schools in the country, and I know I am much happier than he is, grammar schools aren’t the only selective schools, in fact I’d say private schools are more so , the common entrance exams for a private school involve more exams, 12/13 compared with 3 which are harder and the larger amount makes it harder to get a high average. Private schools , good ones at least have far better reputations than any grammar school could ever helping enormously with university applications, and offer a wider range of subjects and opportunities with emphasis that anyone who excels in any area is treated as brilliant and given the same respect.

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