Selective grammar schools have increasingly been positioned at the forefront of the controversial debate regarding elitist education. In Buckinghamshire, entry to a grammar school is gained on the basis of an exam which is taken in the child’s final year of primary school; the Eleven Plus. Therein arises the primary issue that many associate with grammar schools; children are being pressurised at such a tender age to study hard for this exam so that they may gain entry to these prestigious schools. Is it fair that children who have barely reached double digits in age are burdened with this immense level of stress?


Nonetheless, supporters of the grammar school system in Buckinghamshire applaud the exam’s ability to allow hardworking children to continue their studies and flourish in an environment whereby they are surrounded by like-minded people. One such student from Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School commented: “I feel that grammar schools act as a platform for the academically gifted and the high achieving. We are actively encouraged to perform at our full potential in order to achieve the highest possible grades within our capability. Having spent some time at a comprehensive school before moving to a grammar, I can also safely say that classes are a lot more focussed and a lot less disruptive! On a more serious note, I have achieved outstanding exam results at Borlase and I honestly don't think that I would have been able to perform half as well at a comprehensive.” Complimenting statistics elucidate how grammar schools place in the top spots of the school league tables, reflecting their advantage on the academic stage. Indeed, the top eighteen schools on the Buckinghamshire Secondary School League Tables comprise of selective and independent schools, with thirteen of these being grammar schools. However, the question must be asked; whilst segregating the academically able from the rest may pan out better for the former in the long run, is it just that we are isolating those who haven’t necessarily displayed academic potential from a higher standard of education, thus limiting their chances at becoming successful from the outset?


Many parents enrol their children onto Eleven Plus tuition courses, forcing them to avidly revise for hours after school and at the weekends at the expense of thousands of pounds a year. Taking into consideration the current economic climate, this is a cost that surely only the wealthy can afford. Is it right that wealthy families who have the money to condition their children into passing such an exam possess such an advantage over the families of hardworking children from a working class background, who do not necessarily have the financial means to give them that final push? One Wycombe High School student exclaimed: “I spent my primary education at a top independent fee-paying prep school; on top of my school fees, my parents forked out an extra fortune on Eleven Plus coaching. Rationally speaking, it does seem rather ridiculous; however, when you are a parent, you will go to extreme lengths to ensure that your child receives the best and, as I am approaching my seventh year at the school, I am thoroughly glad that my parents did.” She added: “I do realise that Eleven Plus coaching is a cost deemed unaffordable by some, thus severely limiting the intake of grammar school pupils to those of an affluent background.”

Recent reforms have been implemented in order to level the playing field by revising the potential types of questions that will appear in the exam; however, whether this will effectively dispel the upper and middle class privilege and bolster the equality between different social backgrounds remains to be seen.