4th September 1537. Grammar Schools.
Richard Ascham who wrote a treatise called The Scholemaster(sic) (1570), related that Richard Sackville MP had told him that ‘a schoolmaster by his brutality drove from him all love of learning’. Sadly this was true until well into 19th century Britain.
It was Today in 1537 that Richard Harman was appointed Master of Burton Grammar School and probably the first secular, as opposed to monastic appointment.
The term scolae grammaticales was not widely used until the 14thc as any teaching would be undertaken by the local religious community.
So all was church orientated: Latin for future priests and monks; music and verse for liturgy; astronomy, astrology and arithmetic, for calculating the Church Calendar and Canon Law for administration. All was based on ‘need to know’.
The poor went largely uneducated, but a bright boy might be recommended for monastic education, and at fourteen go to the university for further study.
The Renaissance with the discoveries of ancient scriptural texts, saw an increasing demand for Greek and Hebrew as well as Latin for scholars. Classics was ‘the business’.
Schools initially for local ‘poor boys’, such as Winchester (1382) and Eton (1440), were free from Church influence and tied to universities, eventually to become solely for the rich.
New schools were founded by King Edward VI, and later by James I in Ulster, catering for the new Protestant settlers. Some as Bridgnorth Grammar (1503), were founded by borough corporations. In Scotland, many old schools became Grammar Schools.(1)
Later throughout the country, many schools such as Blundells at Tiverton, Repton and Rugby, were founded, originally endowed as free grammar schools for poor boys, by local merchants, Guilds or from the proceeds of Monastic Dissolution.
Grammar schools implied classical languages and as at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, were failing to provide an education for an industrializing country. Local popular demand wasn’t being met, so many left at 14, for well-paid jobs in the local breweries.(2)
Some of the less well-endowed and smaller Grammar Schools would have fallen on hard times, with the beneficiary being the nearby growing number of Public Schools.(3)
In 1864 an Inspection at Burton Grammar revealed 59 boys receiving a narrow and mediocre education in a building containing only two classrooms and having neither library nor playground.
It is unsurprising that a growing middle-class employed in the breweries, would have chosen to send their boys to nearby Repton, where they wouldn’t have to rub-shoulders with ‘poorer’ students, likely to be found in the Grammar School.
Despite all this the Grammar School enabled boys of modest means to go out and attain the highest positions in all spheres of life, which might have been denied them. Many of the best schools in the 21st century still survive as ‘Grammars’.
(1) The Choir School of Glasgow Cathedral (1124), and that in Edinburgh founded in 1128 became Grammar Schools.
(2) Grammar Schools were bound by statutes to teach Classics to be reinforced by the 1805 Lord Eldon judgement, until the Grammar Schools Act of 1840, gave the Chancery Court power to alter the original statutes to meet new needs.
(3) An Inspected grammar school at Skipton, Yorkshire, in the 19thc reported: ‘No pupils are able to scan a line, and none are learning Greek; none learn Euclid, and I can find no evidence of mathematical knowledge even of the humblest kind’.