The number of pupils attending grammar schools has risen under the Labour government, official figures show.
This is mainly due to the redesignation of eight schools as grammar schools in 1998, the year after Labour came to power.
But grammars have maintained their popularity, with the country's 164 schools expanding to take in another 9,873 students.
More than 150,000 children are now educated at wholly selective state schools compared to just under 118,000 in 1983.
Are grammar schools a good thing? Or are they socially divisive?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of the opinions we have received:
Our town has a grammar school one end and a secondary modern the other. However, it is a well known fact that children who attend the state middle schools have a very slim chance of getting in, unless parents can afford 11+ tutoring, which is too expensive for a lot of ordinary parents. Therefore the majority of (ex-private school) children at our local grammar school are brought in from other more affluent areas by coach, paid for by our rising council taxes while all the other schools constantly struggle to raise funds, sending home letters on a regular basis asking parents for money for equipment etc. The last OFSTED report noted that although friendly, the grammar school did not reflect the community it was in. Of course it wouldn't, because hardly any children from the community attends it. It all comes down to money at the end of the day.
Sam, Bucks, UK
I wonder how recently the people who have replied so far have been in a school. Yes, the comprehensive system can work, but only if the behaviour of the pupils allow it to happen. As a teacher I have had many of my classes disrupted by pupils who are unwilling to work or let anyone else work. Whilst dealing with these pupils the rest of the class are missing valuable teaching time. This is happening more and more frequently with social inclusion and the disrespect that has become the norm from pupils and parents. Of course this is not so in all cases, but unfortunately it is happening more and more frequently. So-called 'bright' pupils will eventually succeed, but mainly by their own efforts guided by teachers despite what type of school they go to.
Shirley, West Sussex
As a trainee teacher, I would be horrified if my younger brother, who is about to start secondary school, attended any of the local comprehensives which spend most of the time dealing with the troublesome pupils and leaving behind the unassuming hardworking ones. My brother worked hard to pass the entrance examination for a local selective secondary school and I believe he should be rewarded for that by being taught in an environment where he will be pushed to achieve his full potential.
George, Liverpool, UK
It is not the name of the school but the standard that matters. I failed my 11+ and went to a good secondary modern school where I was groomed to take the entrance examination for the local excellent technical college. I am now a European Engineer, Chartered Engineer and a graduate. All through my education I was lucky to have excellent teachers who knew their subjects and could teach. It is a shame that people worry about a name and not the main criteria, how good the teachers are.
Thomas D. Jago, Khobar, Saudi Arabia
If as a society we valued technical education as much as we valued academic achievement, grammar schools or grammar streams would have their place.
Irene Fletcher, Hull, UK
I don't understand why people are saying that grammar schools are socially divisive. I went to a grammar school and I think they encourage more mixing between backgrounds. It is state education and is available to all, regardless of income. But you also get those who are at the wealthier end of the spectrum who otherwise would have gone to a private school. Comprehensives will still have some division based on income because it depends whether you can afford a home with the correct postcode.
If only we had a grammar school locally! I'm a single parent on a low income with a very bright child, IQ 145, yet the only school I can get him into is the one nearest to our council estate. He has to struggle in a class where the teachers need to spend time with children learning at a much slower pace. Is that fair? Is it selfish to want my child to reach his potential?
The real divide in education, and one that affects society in general, and life-chances for young people in particular, is that between the private and maintained sectors. Compared with that, the grammar/comprehensive debate is a side-show.
Tony Roake, West Sussex
I went to a comprehensive school, and was constantly distracted by the 'bad element' who didn't want to learn. Luckily, most of them had been expelled towards the end. I often think that I could have left school with better qualifications, if I was sent to school with kids who actually wanted to learn.
James, Dorset, UK
Being in a grammar school yet having experienced both comprehensive and private education, I know that the children who are more academically able benefit the greatest when with others of their intellectual capacity so they can share ideas and inspire each other. Sometimes if put in a class with people with less motivation, that child does not achieve their full potential. People need to realise that one type of education does not fit all children and that if a child is academically able, they should be given the opportunity to develop that.
I would have failed the 11 plus miserably at such a young age. The comprehensive system enabled me to reach my potential at a later age and enabled me to excel in science, eventually leading to graduation from university with a degree in Physics.
We need to put more effort into helping comprehensive schools raise their standards rather than providing a system that creams the brightest and forgets the rest.
I recently, got offers from two of the country's leading grammar schools, for my A-level courses, after studying at a comprehensive all my life. I chose to apply, because I felt the need to spend more time with people of the same academic ability and motivation as myself, and I think grammar schools, allow pupils a chance for this. I think that for this reason, we need to allow pupils to be able to have this opportunity.
I think that a tiered education system reflects and supports the diverse abilities of the population. Can it be wrong for society to demand more from the most capable? Can it be wrong to tailor the education service to the abilities of a child? I think not.
Terence Summers, Andover, England
I went to a comprehensive and did very well academically, but that was only because the school streamed children of different abilities and taught them separately. I dread to think what it would have been like without the streaming. So I can see that for some children, there is a need to be taught in a challenging environment like in a grammar school.
Bilal Patel, London, UK
Comprehensives should be made to work but the only way this can happen is by streaming - something avoided in this PC age. By grading pupils the brightest can be challenged and those with greater needs helped more or even better allowed to excel in other areas such as sport or music. One of my local schools strives to find something that ALL pupils are good at so they are not left out.
They ARE socially divisive. Grammar schools, prospects of a 'better' education are making people even more elitist and prone to take care of No.1 without a thought for anyone else. It's just another index of the selfishness in our culture.
Grammars should have been abolished in 1997 when Labour returned to power, completing the abolition scheme that was started in the late 1970s. As a Labour party member, I feel disgusted and disillusioned. What party do I vote for to rid our country of these divisive, elitist institutions? Just how big a majority do Labour want before they do the right thing?
Nick James, Bexley, Kent
I went to a grammar school having moved from Bedfordshire, where the 11+ is not used. A lot of the other kids in my grammar school had been to junior schools that coach the pupils especially to pass the 11+. I had never been put under pressure to succeed, so the whole process was much less stressful for me than my classmates.
Ben, Leeds, UK
Between "socially divisive" and mediocre, guess which one I, as well as most parents and students themselves, would choose?
Hugh, London, UK
My husband failed his 11+ but eventually obtained a Masters degree in law. This goes to show how stupid it is to try to put labels on children at such a young age.
But what about if you're not 'clever'? Do our cleverest students go on to become teachers? Of course not, they go where the profiles are high and the salaries too. So what about if you're not 'clever,' then? Should these students just stay at home, produce children and watch Trisha?
NO! There should be better resourcing for state schooling, with internal streaming to separate capabilities. The idea of a grammar education merely creates a class division. The sad decline of state education is rather a result of social and educational policy.
Why, oh why do we still have this debate. It isn't comprehensives good/bad, grammar bad/good. It is about ability. Able pupils attain more if they are surrounded by other able pupils - so win/win. Less able pupils get turned off if they are mixed with 'swots' and so lose/lose.
I went to a state school which had excellent teachers. I ended up passing my GCSE's, passing my A levels and going on to University to study Law. I think it is very ignorant to think that state schools are of a lower class of academic establishment next to a grammar school. Teachers are the key, not the school. In a day where we have to teach our children social and racial tolerance, all children regardless of class background should learn together.
Gareth , Runcorn, Cheshire
We should go back to the old methods of grammar and secondary modern. When will people accept that some children are cleverer than others and need to be pushed more. One size fits all will never work in any form of education.
Can someone explain why Grammar schools should be abolished to be replaced by comprehensives with streaming by ability? I can't really see the difference. Children all know which the 'top' streams are. How does that make those in the lower streams feel? Not much different than those who don't pass the 11+, I would think. I don't think the children are that bothered anyway, it's the parents' who complain about feeling second class.
Grammar schools provide social mobility for the poor and should be encouraged. Discouraging excellence has never made things fairer - it has just made things generally worse.
Frank Church, London, England
I am a teacher in a comprehensive school and I send my children to a private school due to a lack of grammar schools in this area. We must increase their numbers to allow clever young people to be pushed with their peers in an elite academic environment. The comprehensive experiment has failed to the detriment of many thousands. Let us stop pretending that one size fits all and that all people are the same.
Rob, Yorks, UK
Is sense dawning in education at last? When I went to a grammar school in the 60's and then on to Cambridge I still kept in contact with primary school friends who went to secondary modern schools. Many of the secondary moderns schools were adding sixth forms before Labour got in with their dogma and destroyed a perfectly good system.
Roger Jackson, Stockport, England
I went to a grammar school in Trafford, a local authority that has been stubbornly selective for decades. Because my school was smaller we lacked some of the facilities of the larger secondary moderns. Physical education was particularly limited. I grew up in the North West yet never once played Rugby at school! I am thankful though that I got to study the 3 sciences separately instead of them being lumped together into "Science".
Oliver Richardson, USA
Why should the majority of decent kids who are different shades of average be consigned to second rate schools with no discipline or standards, and on top of that have to bear the brunt of peer pressure from that sector of society that nobody wants their kids hanging around with? To separate kids like this at 11 creates divisions that last a lifetime - great for those who get in, disastrous for those who don't.
Douglas, Milton Keynes, UK
Arbitrary separation in different schools leads on to arbitrary, and divisive, separation in adult life. Friends and acquaintances made at school often continue into later life. Mixing with the full community spectrum at school leads to a fuller understanding of the community, and each other, as adults. While separation into different classes according to educational needs is necessary within a school for some subjects such separation does not prevent social interaction outside class. Having separate schools guarantees that social interaction will not occur resulting in split societies the results of which are so plain for all to see here in the UK and elsewhere.
John M, LyneMeads, UK
Yes, they are a good thing. As a secondary school teacher one of the most frustrating things is not being able to give enough time to kids who find things difficult and also not being able to stretch the high attainers enough. There simply isn't enough time or support in the classroom and anyone who thinks otherwise should try teaching for a week or so before making any comments!
Ben, Bristol, UK
Build more grammar schools. Make them available to everyone who has the ability to go, regardless of 'social class'. Entrance shouldn't be based on an entrance exam, it should be based on a portfolio of the child's work. This will stop 'well off' parents fiddling the system by hiring exam tutors.
Grammar schools should be abolished and the comprehensive system made to work. If there were no grammar schools creaming off the brightest children, and they were integrated into schools catering for all abilities, secondary schools would improve. It should be within the capabilities of schools to cater for all levels, albeit with suitable streaming. This way no child would be left feeling a failure at 11 if he or she failed to gain a place at a selective school.
Pauline Fothergill, Halifax, UK
I went to a grammar school in the 60s which merged to become a comprehensive whilst I was there. It was sad to see the demoralisation of some of the more academic teacher who were used to teaching 'higher' streams and could not handle none academic pupils. This despite the fact that the new school had the best and most modern facilities. My elder son is dyslexic but very good at maths. At his grammar school he has been for all sorts of maths challenges and inter-school competitions which have greatly improved his academic confidence. I'm not sure this would have happened at his local comprehensive.
Life is socially divisive - just make the best of what you've got. We need to raise standards in our comprehensive schools to the standard of the grammar schools. Pay teachers who are prepared to work with less able children more money as they have to work much harder to get good results.
My dad went to a grammar school in the 1940s/50s. Many boys in his form were from mining villages and were very poor indeed. However, owing to the fact that they did not have to pay for their grammar school education (it was free in those days), four of the boys in his form were able to take full advantage of the grammar school system and eventually went on to gain PhDs. Bring back grammar schools and make them free of fees; if children are clever enough to pass an entrance exam, they are clever enough to have their fees paid.
Liz, Lancs, UK
Grammar schools really are not the issue - choice is. I would abolish state education, let schools operate in a market (and there will then be a school for all tastes), give parents vouchers to spend and if schools charge above the voucher value, make independent schools earn their charitable status by subsidising poorer entrants. All types of school co-exist happily in the independent sector, so the challenge is to give all parents this choice.
HJ, Berks, UK
I went to a grammar school and my sister went to a state comprehensive. The comprehensive school had occurrences such as teenage pregnancies, drug abuse and teacher bullying. I did not experience anything like this, and used to be totally shocked when my sister came home and told me about them. If parents want their children to take the test and get into a school where education is the priority, and pride in both yourselves and your surroundings is first and foremost, then why shouldn't they encourage their children to go to the grammar schools? Let the brightest be taught alongside each other, they can only benefit from this, as well as the higher standard of teaching that the grammar school system instils.
At our primary school we had the option of taking the 11-plus to get into grammar school, or just going to the local comprehensive. My sister was a slow developer, and still found reading difficult at 11. There is no way she would have passed the 11-plus. She went to the comprehensive and came out with 8 GCSEs at C or above, 2 A-levels and 2 AS-levels (all grades A-C). She has since went on to obtain a 2i at a "proper" university. This would never have happened had she failed the 11-plus and gone to the secondary modern. Comprehensives allow flexibility and movement between classes of different levels. I guess we were lucky though in that our local comprehensive was a very good school.
Katherine, London, UK
I went to a grammar school from 1992-1999. Although the school was selective it was wholly on tests, no-one paid to be there. As with everything it's creating the right learning environment, I liked being pushed to achieve whereas others will rebel against it. I was academically strong so it suited me, whereas my brother (had he attended the same school) would have hated it cause he is more creative. The only problem is that grammar schools is that the teachers do drum into you that you are better all the time and this can become socially divisive. If this is stopped and it is just seen as a more academic option then there is nothing wrong with grammar school.
Helen W, UK
I went to a basic comprehensive, then non-selective sixth form college, then Cambridge University. At my school all classes were streamed after about the first year, so the more academically minded kids got more academic stimulation, and kids less academically inclined got what they needed too. Being in a school with children of different backgrounds and academic abilities gave me a view of a massive cross section of society and abilities and I wouldn't have had it any other way. I think that going to a grammar school would have robbed me of a valuable experience.
Katherine, London, UK
Not only would I not increase the number of grammar schools I would in fact abolish them along with private schools and force all children to go to state run schools. This would help to prevent a long term elite appearing in society where the rich remain rich by depriving the poor. At the very least it will mean the children of the rich/ powerful (who generally end up rich / powerful) will have to, at least for their formative years, understand and mix with a broader range of society's offerings.
Graham Smith, Southampton, UK
Yes. I failed my 11 Plus but still got into university. (I'm reading a PhD right now.) Grammar schools help some children and encourages those who don't get in to work harder, just to prove that that test didn't mean a thing. Getting rid of grammars will not stop some kids being lazy or not working hard enough.
Alexander Hay, UK
I grew up in N. Ireland and went to a selective state grammar school. While I was not at the top of the class, it allowed those with differing abilities to be streamed into a classroom environment that best suited their needs. My school was composed of kids from a wide variety of social backgrounds - there purely on merit. I got a good education I probably would have had to pay for on the "mainland".
I went to a grammar school in the late 60's. It meant I had to leave behind a lot of friends and then you had parents who felt their children were somehow "superior" to those going to other schools. Today this is even more apparent with the number of parents being even more snobby in their views. It is also a fact that many parents pay for tuition to get their children into grammar schools, so they are not necessarily the brightest, simply they have the money for tutoring. I think all schools should be renamed grammar schools and the KS2 test used to place them in appropriate classes, rather than any form of selective test.
Roy Sheward, Walsall, UK