The Grammar Schools

THE modern enquirer who is interested in the story of the development of our Grammar Schools will very quickly find, perhaps to his surprise, that a hundred years ago there were few Grammar Schools in this country and that the majority of these, founded in the sixteenth century, were still being managed by the terms of the trust deeds as fixed by their pious founders. The latter were interested in the encouragement of sound learning which in their day and for the next two hundred years meant the study of Latin and Greek, and in the development of true religion. Among such terms, therefore, we find it laid down that the school must be conducted by "one schoolmaster and one usher" or that Greek, Latin and Hebrew were to be the sole subjects of instruction, a diet which we should consider rather ascetic and narrow for the farmers' sons who most have formed the large part of the scholars in many schools, situated as they were in rural areas or small country towns. The State had no supervisory rights, these being entirely in the hands of the governors, who sometimes forgot that the school existed, sometimes misappropriated the funds, and sometimes were the helpless spectators of incompetent or unscrupulous headmasters. For example, in one Grammar School a headmaster had been in charge for thirty years and there had not been a single pupil.

There were, of course, a few good schools and others which at this time were beginning to be influenced by the work of Thomas Arnold of Rugby. On the whole, however, in 1855 the schools were cut of touch with the swiftly changing conditions of the century and unable to meet the demand, that the rapid increase in the middle classes were about to make upon them.

Most of the abuses to which reference had been made were swept away by an important Act, the Endowed Schools Act of 1869. This was only a beginning, for secondary education was still for many years to remain the privilege of the few, either of those who were fortunate enough to live in a town with an endowed Grammar School and who could secure entry either by payment of fees or by securing a foundation scholarship, or of those whose parents could afford to send their children to the expensive Boarding Schools, whose numbers increased from seven to twenty in the fifties and sixties of the last century. All these schools, however, could do but little to cope with the increasing population the national birth-rate has never been so high as in the period 160 1880, and in any case their fees were well beyond the means middle and working class parents. To sum up, there was no State or Local aid which would help the able but poor boy to climb from his National or Board School to the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge. The great Thomas Huxley had spoken with much eloquence of the educational ladder of his day, but on it could climb only the very few who might obtain a foundation scholarship to their local Grammar School and then the necessary tuition to qualify for an Entrance Scholarship or Exhibition in Classics or Mathematics to the Universities. In other words, we are still a long way from 1955, and educational reformers had to wait impatiently until 1895, when the Bryce Commission reviewed secondary education in this country and made recommendations which were embodied in the great Education Act of 1902. Now the most important item was that which encouraged Local Authorities to build their own Secondary (i.e. Grammar) Schools. In this way our School, one of the first of its kind, was established in January 1905 and formally opened on the 18th March by the then Prince of Wales, who later became King George V. More details of those first days of the East Ham Technical College, as it was then called, will be found on other pages. It is sufficient to say here that the first Principal, Mr. W. H. Barker, had under his charge a combined Boys' and Girls' Secondary School and also classes for evening students - an arrangement which continued until 1932.

In 1907, a free place system was introduced which made it compulsory for grant aided Secondary Schools like ours to award 25 per cent. of their school places, free of cost, to children from the Elementary Schools. At last, the educational ladder was being widened, especially as there had been a big increase in the number of Universities and University Colleges over the last sixty years. It is interesting and thrilling to note that within ten years of the passing of the Balfour Act of 1902 the County and County Borough Council, had founded 330 new Secondary Schools and had taken over 53 existing ones. The next advance was made in 1918, when the Fisher Act gave great stimulus to the new Secondary School, by making financial grant, which enabled them to develop advanced courses in their Sixth Forms.

By 1925, the new Secondary Schools, now all called Grammar, had won a well deserved reputation not only in their own areas, but in the country as a whole. Recruited largely from the ablest boys and girls of their district, and staffed by loyal and enthusiastic teachers, they soon showed that they were capable of competing in the fullest sense with the Boarding Schools and older Grammar Schools, for they had taken over their long tradition, modified it in the light of modern needs and developments and emphasized the best aspects of our English school life, accurate and sound scholarship, the training of character, and the importance of service in a vigorous and healthy school life. Moreover, the increasing generosity of Local Authorities and the development of Sixth Form work slowly enabled gifted, though poor, children to make their way to the University and thence to prominent positions in our national life. But perhaps the clearest evidence of the success of the new Grammar Schools is to be found in the magnificent part played by their Old Boys and Girls in the war effort of 1939-45. In fact, it has been stated by several of those in authority that the expansion of our armed forces could not have been made, had not the Grammar Schools done such a fine job in the period between the two wars.

But even now our story is not yet complete. As many of the parents of our boys know from experience, even in the nineteen thirties, many able children were unable to find admission into a Grammar School, either because there were not sufficient places or because their parents could not afford the fees, modest though they were. Again, economic pressure prevented some pupils from completing the course or from going as far academically as they were able. This was especially true I the abler pupil, who still found it difficult to have a University education if his parents could not afford to maintain him. Scholarships were available, but not in sufficient numbers, and competition for the monies available was fierce. In any case, a student who wished to be financially independent of his parents had to secure two, and sometimes three, awards, if he wished to go to Oxford or Cambridge.

Thus in 1944, another Education Act attempted, amongst many other aims, to ensure that entry to a State Grammar School should he determined by a pupil's, suitability rather, than by his parents' ability to pay fees, and that every pupil who secured entry to a University should receive adequate financial help either from the Local Authority or from the State. Hence fees in State Grammar Schools were abolished, and thousands of pound, have been spent in helping University Students.

Several important results followed; many State Grammar Schools found that they were receiving a far greater proportion of working-class children as against the children of parents who had themselves received a Grammar School education and therefore valued it and its traditions for its own sake. It is not surprising, therefore, that during the last ten years some schools
base failed to win over their new recruits, many of whom soon lose interest and leave at the earliest opportunity at fifteen.

On the other hand the generous financial awards given by the Local Authority at 18+ for University Entrance have encouraged a big expansion in the Sixth Form, and some of the best work in our Grammar Schools has been done at this level during the last ten years, although this has been a period when them has been much disaffection among the teaching staff at certain results of the 1944 Education Act, especially their salary scale. This still does not sufficiently recognise the importance of the Sixth Form Master or Mistress, just when the demand, of industry and Government Research have almost, but not quite, removed Scientists and Mathematicians from the teaching profession.

And yet, in spite of many difficulties, our School has built up a fine record over the last ten years in the number of boys it has sent on to the Universities - an achievement which succeeding generations may find it difficult to surpass. It can only be hoped that the East Ham boys of the next fifty years will be inspired by the example of those who have gone before them, and, now that educational facilities are so much easier and Huxley's , educational ladder has become practically a moving staircase, that they will nut be lacking in those qualities of character which many I their predecessors have shown in much more difficult world.

Today the Sixth Former has to assume the responsibility of National Service either before he enters his University or begins his career. I am glad to say that this experience, unpopular with some but on the whole cheerfully accepted by most, is generally recognised as giving opportunities, of developing wider contacts and a broader outlook, both I which help a young man in achieving a well balanced maturity. It has been noted that practically all boys benefit from their two years' National Service, although the time may seem a sorry interruption at a critical point in their careers.

Today, however, in the eyes of the general public, the prestige of the Grammar School is higher than it has ever been before, and it is to the Grammar Schools that all sections look to provide the boys and girls who seem to be wanted in ever increasing numbers, not only by the professions, but also by the great commercial and industrial concerns, the banks, the Civil service and the Armed Forces; all of whom seem now to be in cut-throat competition for our boys of 17 and 18.

In conclusion, I find it will be necessary for me to say what I have often said in my position as Headmaster, but I think it will form a fitting end to this attempt to survey the field of Grammar School education over the last hundred years. The curriculum and aims of a Grammar School make exacting demands on its pupils. The average pupil - and we have rightly many of them in our Grammar Schools - will have to face much hard work and mental effort and realise that his character is bred in the way he faces up to his difficulties. If he is to be successful, he must have not only intelligence but also important qualities of character, such as persistence and the willingness to accept Grammar School standards, and that, too, in an age when there are more distractions both in and out of the home than ever before. The mode boy has not only to resist the attractions of the wireless and the television, but also the pull of the youth club and, perhaps, the more insidious temptations of the street. He must also have behind him parents who are ready and willing to support the school in encouraging the conscientious performance of homework and his remaining at school until the school course is complete, often in spite of an easy labour market.

Finally, the pupils must in their own hearts be ready to accept, first the Grammar School ethos of hard work, loyalty and "esprit de corps" and, secondly the full responsibilities of school membership which emphasize service to an ideal which is greater than the individual whether it is represented in the Form, the House, or the School.