Apparently, in the United Kingdom, grammar schools, which select 11-year olds based on test results, are controversial, as there is a debate as to whether they do or don't enhance social mobility, opponents arguing that in practice, grammar schools are not accessible by lower/working class children. On the other hand, public schools do not appear to be subject to a debate, despite very high fees (Eton charges £33k/year) and a strong association with ruling classes.

Is my impression that there is more debate surrounding grammar schools than public schools. Is my impression correct? It would appear to me that the arguments against grammar schools, are more clearly applicable in the case of public schools. Then why is it that groups opposed to grammar schools not point their arrows at public schools instead or as well?

  • 4
    because grammar schools are (usually) publicly funded, whereas public schools are not. The debate is over what the government should do with its education budget, so public schools aren't a part of that. Oct 15, 2015 at 10:36
  • Am I the only 'murkin on here who is utterly confused by the fact that Eton is considered a "public school"? :)
    – user4012
    Oct 15, 2015 at 15:23
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    @user4012 No, you aren't. They're English. 'nuff said. It probably confuses all non-English (perhaps all non-Commonwealth) people. English "public school" translates to "private school" in the rest of the world (perhaps Scotland and Wales use the same terminology). I believe that "public" historically meant that it was not run by the church and open to pupils^Wboys of any faith. I might be utterly wrong. Perhaps English Language & Usage can shed light.
    – gerrit
    Oct 15, 2015 at 15:29
  • Sounds like (to attempt to translate into US-speak) the issue is Private Schools (what the UK calls 'public' for some reason) vs. Public Schools (what the UK calls 'grammar' for some reason)?
    – user1530
    Oct 16, 2015 at 16:58
  • It can be awkward in SE when a "below the line" comment would actually make the best formal answer to the question. This is the case with the first comment by "mt_". The reason grammar schools are more controversial is that they are funded by taxpayers' money. May I suggest to "mt_" that they convert their comment into an answer and collect the reputation points due to them. Oct 21, 2015 at 8:24

2 Answers 2


The debate is whether the state should fund schools who select pupils on either academic ability or the ability to pay. Tax-payers contribute wholly or partially towards both state and independent schools.

The majority of public/independent schools in the UK (they exist in Wales, Scotland, N Ireland, and England) have charitable status, thus benefiting from a number of tax breaks. The majority offer a number of scholarships or bursaries to children from diverse social backgrounds. Approximately half of the 2,500 independents are inspected by Ofsted, the others by the Independent Schools Council, both of which provide a fuller background to the issue than can be made here.

There are 163 state grammar schools* which, by definition, are state-funded, selecting all (or nearly all) of their students by ability via an entrance exam. (I believe there are schools with 'Grammar' in their title but are fee-paying.) The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 stopped new grammar schools from opening but the number of students has risen. A branch of an existing grammar school in Sevenoaks has attracted comment this week as it is claimed that the branch is too far away from the main property and is, in effect, a new grammar school.

EDIT: There are 163 grammar schools in England, 69 in N Ireland, and none in Wales and Scotland.


Currently in the UK our education system de facto even if not de jure selects all pupils by income. The best schools are either private schools or State schools with a catchment area that is exorbitantly expensive to live in for any working class families.

Grammar schools represent the only way someone from a working class background can get a first rate education. The arguments against educating people according to their ability are plainly stupid, especially coming from people and political parties that are supposed to represent the working class.

  • Grammar schools are also de facto income selected based on the prep available to those with resources to pay. And the afore mentioned location based costs. Even having passed the exam, you still need to get to the school.
    – Jontia
    Mar 2, 2021 at 7:03
  • Article from July 2020 predicting Delaying 11+ to help preppers and the result in September DFE guidance, delaying 11+
    – Jontia
    Mar 2, 2021 at 7:14

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