What are Grammar Schools? A Guide for Parents

If your child is approaching the end of primary school, your thoughts are no doubt turning to secondary choices. 

But how can you decide between private schooling, specialist or faith establishments, state high schools or grammar schools? And for that matter, what’s the difference?

To help you navigate the UK secondary system, we’re taking an in-depth look at Grammar Schools. There are just 163 Grammar Schools, but their educational impact outweighs these small numbers.

To help your decision-making, we explain what sets Grammars apart from “normal” state schools, the 11+ exam system and answer some common questions.

What’s the difference between a Grammar School and a normal school?

There are around 3,400 state secondary schools in England. They are free for students to attend, with funding provided by the government. 

Out of these thousands of schools, 163 are Grammars. 

Grammars are different from “normal” state schools because of their selective admissions process. While regular schools provide a comprehensive education to all (regardless of academic ability), Grammar Schools have a different mission. They offer a more academically focused environment for students who excel in their studies.

Children are usually accepted on a combination of catchment area (i.e. where you live) and academic ability. Students’ intellectual aptitude is tested with the 11+ exam, which we’ll discuss below.

What is the 11+ Exam?

The 11+ exam is the main way grammar schools select pupils. 

Your child sits these tests in the last year of primary school. They’re a demanding combination of English (including comprehension, grammar and creative writing), Maths, Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning. 

These exams identify which children are likely to thrive in an educationally challenging Grammar School environment. 

In terms of assigning places, some Grammar Schools rank students based on their score in the 11+ exam. Admissions are then based on these results. Other Grammar Schools use a combination of test results and other criteria like how far you live from the school and whether siblings already attend.

If you’re unsure about the entry requirements of a particular school, check their website or get in touch with admissions staff. Specialist tutors (like us at Achieve Learning!) can also help your child prepare and succeed at 11+ exams.

Do Grammar Schools follow the national curriculum?

In short, yes. 

Grammar Schools follow the standard national curriculum, just like other state-funded schools.

But the details are a bit more complex.

While Grammar Schools follow the national curriculum, they might supplement it with additional subjects or more advanced coursework. For instance, some Grammar Schools might include compulsory Latin for younger year groups (not part of the national curriculum) while others organise special projects, extra trips and learning opportunities.

Grammar Schools and their teaching of the national curriculum is a complex question that we know is important to parents choosing secondary education. We’ll explore this topic in more detail in a follow-up article, so stay tuned.

What are the advantages of Grammar Schools?

Grammar Schools remain popular with parents and pupils for good reason. 

Here are just a few advantages:

  • High academic standards: Grammar Schools are known for their rigorous and focused academic programs, which challenge and stimulate students who excel in their studies.
  • Smaller class sizes: Typically, Grammar Schools have smaller class sizes, allowing for more personalised attention from teachers and a positive, proactive learning environment.
  • Advanced curriculum: Grammar Schools often offer advanced coursework, enrichment programs and a wider range of subjects, allowing students to explore their interests in-depth.
  • Supportive peer groups: Grammar School students tend to be academically motivated, creating a peer group that inspires and encourages academic excellence.
  • Strong exam results: Grammar Schools often achieve higher exam results, increasing students’ chances of gaining entry to top universities and pursuing competitive careers.
  • Preparation for the future: The challenging yet caring nature of Grammar Schools is great preparation for the demands of higher education and professional life. These schools emphasise discipline, leadership and critical thinking, fostering well-rounded individuals.
  • Quality teachers: These schools attract some of the most experienced and dedicated teachers who provide quality education and guidance.
  • Access to resources: Although they’re state-funded, Grammar Schools often have more extensive facilities, resources and extracurricular activities – enriching the learning experience.

How do I know if my child is suitable for Grammar School?

Despite the many advantages, a Grammar School education isn’t right for every child.

But how can you tell if Grammar School will suit your child?

The good thing about the 11+ system is students are only admitted if they pass these rigorous tests. So if your child excels in the 11+, chances are they’ll thrive at Grammar School.

Although these schools focus on intellectual achievement, they’re also incredibly supportive and provide plenty of pastoral care. 

Gauging your child’s interest in pursuing an academically-challenging curriculum is sensible, but don’t worry too much. Grammar Schools provide all the usual extra-curricular activities and courses (like sports, drama, music and home economics) alongside more “traditionally academic” subjects like English, Maths and Science.

All Grammar Schools have open days, letting you explore classrooms and grounds, meet students and teachers and get a feel for the school. Attending open days in-person is one of the best ways you can tell whether a school is right for your child.

Are Grammar Schools free to attend?

Grammar Schools are state-funded, which means they’re free to attend. You won’t pay any fees for your child’s place.

Even so, there are other associated costs, such as uniforms, optional school trips (both in the UK and abroad) as well as extracurricular activities like after-school clubs and classes.

You should also know there are some private, fee-paying schools that call themselves Grammars. 


Well this quirk is due to the varied history of UK schooling. With changing attitudes towards education over the years, many Grammar Schools were taken-over as independent private schools. With a (well-deserved) reputation for academic excellence and intellectual curiosity, the “grammar” label often stayed. 

Check your chosen school’s website if you’re unsure whether fees apply. You can find a full list of state-funded Grammar Schools here.

How can I prepare my child for Grammar School tests?

Successfully preparing your child for Grammar School entrance exams is a long, thoughtful and dedicated process. 

We’ve already given some tips on helping your child tackle these challenging exams that you can find here and here

But well as tried and tested advice like making the most of mock tests and reading lists to boost your child’s vocabulary, here are some more ideas to help your child succeed in their 11+ exams:

  • Enrol your child in practice classes or 1-1 tutoring. With personalised help and advice, this is one of the best ways to help your child achieve their academic potential.
  • Explore online resources and games to make learning enjoyable. From BBC Bitesize to Twinkl and Kahoot, there are a whole host of fun online activities (all with an educational twist) that your child will enjoy.
  • Encourage your child to read widely and solve puzzles. Reading (not just novels, but anything from magazines and noticeboards to newspapers and comics) is the best way to improve their vocabulary. Reinforce reading with activities like crosswords, word searches and writing Haikus, as well as word and memory based games such as “I went to Market” or “I-Spy”.
  • Foster critical thinking skills through discussions and debates. Intellectual curiosity starts at home, so support your child by answering and encouraging any questions they might have. Researching any answers you don’t know is also a great bonding activity!
  • Develop organisation and exam-taking strategies. Of course, time-management for 11+ tests isn’t just for the exam hall. Get your child used to managing their own schedule during times like the school-run, homework before dinner or games against the clock.
  • Ensure they’re emotionally prepared for the admissions process. It’s important not to place too much pressure on your child. Nerves and anxiety don’t help anyone. As long as they try their best on the day, this is enough.

Ready to learn more?

If you’re exploring Grammar Schools and need expert guidance on preparing your child, book a free academic assessment with Achieve Learning. With over 20 years of experience, we provide practice tests and valuable insights, as well as 1-1 tuition and support to help your child succeed in their academic journey.

In this blog post, we’ve scratched the surface of Grammar Schools in the UK. Stay tuned for our follow-up article, where we’ll delve deeper into the National Curriculum and offer more tips on preparing your child for this educational path.