Editorial contribution to The Sunday Mail supplement published on 23 September 2007 on the occasion of the Fletcher High School Golden Jubilee celebrations.
FLETCHER HIGH SCHOOL GOLDEN JUBILEE
SCHOOL DESIGN PHILOSOPHY
Fletcher High School may be only fifty years old but its heritage has origins which trace back more than five hundred years. It is part of a lineage that has its roots in medieval times. The school was modeled on the venerable English grammar school design. To put our school’s pedigree in context, this article reviews the origins and rise of grammar schools in general.
Grammar schools trace their origins back to before the fifteenth century, as schools in which classics (i.e. Latin and Greek) were emphasized as university preparatory subjects. In medieval times, the importance of Latin in government and religion meant there was a strong demand to learn the language. Schools were set up to teach the basis of Latin grammar, calling themselves ‘grammar schools’. Later the curriculum was considerably broadened to include other languages, such as Greek, Hebrew, English and European languages, as well as the natural sciences, mathematics, history, geography and other subjects. Needless to say the ancient languages are no longer an important component of the curriculum in grammar schools today.
A number of agendas fortuitously converged to give the rise of grammar schools impetus. One such agenda was religious. Before grammar schools, monasteries were probably the only respectable establishment for education. In order to remedy this and strengthen establishment of the Protestant movement, Queen Elizabeth I founded several grammar schools. Also some new schools were founded with the proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.
In the absence of civic authorities, grammar schools were established as acts of charity, either by private benefactors or corporate bodies such as guilds. The revolution in British civic government that took place in the late 19th century created a new breed of grammar schools. It became markedly easier to set up a school. At the same time, there was a great emphasis on the importance of self-improvement, and parents keen for their children to receive a decent education took a lead in organizing the creation of new schools. Many took the title ‘grammar school’ for historical reasons. Grammar schools thus emerged as one part of the highly varied British education system before 1944. Newer schools tended to emulate the older grammar schools, copying their curriculum, ethos, ambitions as well as gowned teachers and cane-wielding prefects. When I was at Fletcher in the seventies, vestiges of this were still evident. The teachers did not don gowns but the principal did. The prefects had modernized, they were now wielding electric cables!
Following the Education Act 1944 the Tripartite System was established. This placed the grammar school as the place of education for the academically gifted. Other children attended technical schools or secondary modern schools. The system had its detractors. Critics condemned it as being elitist and defenders claimed that grammar schools allow pupils to obtain a good education through merit rather than through family income.
Today in Britain a grammar school is one with a strong academic reputation. Grammar schools often perform well in league tables, and there is a high level of competition for places in them. That sounds reminiscent of Fletcher High School.
Right from the outset, Fletcher was a grammar school to the bone. The first principal, Mr D Davies together with his wife authored English grammar textbooks. They valued the study of English grammar no less than their counterparts five hundred years earlier valued the study of Latin grammar. Apparently Mr Davies required every boy in the school to read at least one English literature library book per week. And he even checked on them by way of review interviews!
It is good to note that Fletcher has managed to keep up grammar school performance standards in spite of economic constraints obtaining these days. Long live Fletcher!