Many of the oldest and most historic schools in Australia are grammar schools. Traditional, prestigious and usually expensive, grammar schools have produced many famous Australians and these institutions occupy a unique position within the country’s education system.
Grammar schools have thrived in Australia since they were first established in the mid-19th century.
Founded in order to prevent wealthy Australians from having to send their children abroad to Britain for a good education, grammar schools were based on UK public schools and retain many of their qualities to this day.
About one third of modern Australian children are educated in grammar schools.
In Australia, a grammar school is a high-cost private school that typically selects their pupils on the basis of academic intelligence, although some admit pupils on the basis of an interview.
Grammar schools are equally selective when looking for teaching staff, seeking tutors with impeccable credentials.
Like British public schools, Australian grammar schools also offer scholarships and bursaries for academic excellence, music, sports, the performing arts and many other subjects to attract talented pupils from lower income homes.
The overwhelming majority of grammar schools in Australia were associated with the Church of England when they were founded. Many schools have retained their affiliation to the Anglican Church of Australia.
Contemporary grammar schools encompass various denominations and there are also many non-denominational schools who welcome pupils of all faiths.
The oldest and most traditional grammar schools in Australia are single-sex, as another reflection of the historic British public school system.
Many schools are coeducational and single-sex grammar schools often accept members of the opposite gender in Sixth and Seventh Forms.
Many grammar schools are boarding schools, but it is rare in the modern day for a grammar school to consist exclusively of boarders.
Typically there is a mix of boarders and day pupils, though usually the school is primarily designed for one or the other.
Grammar schools almost always have a set uniform, typically reflecting the formal British style of a button up shirt, blazer and tie with long trousers and pleated skirts.
During the summer, smart sailor dresses are worn by girls. Shorts may or may not be acceptable for boys, depending on the school’s uniform code.
School uniform rules tend to be enforced more strictly in grammar schools than in comprehensive schools, even at primary level where formal uniform is uncommon in Australia.
Although Australian grammar schools were largely inspired by the British education system, teachers should be aware that in the modern day the term ‘grammar school’ refers to very different types of institution in the two countries.
A grammar school in the UK is one that admits only candidates who pass certain examinations (such as the Eleven Plus), does not charge fees and prioritises academic subjects – comparable to an Australian selective school.
Teaching at an Australian grammar school is therefore a very different experience to grammar school teaching in the UK.