Thame Local History
Origin and Decline of Grammar Schools
Grammar Schools originated as a typical by-product of the Renaissance,
differing from the earlier medieval schools in two main respects.
Firstly, the teaching of Latin grammar became not an end in itself, but an introduction into what was then the world's best literature.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the invention of printing revolutionized teaching methods, which up until that time in the old medieval schools had been mainly oral.
Early schools of this new type were founded by Dean John Colet, who founded St Paul's School in 1509, and Cardinal Wolsey who founded a school at Ipswich in 1528.
The main bodies of Grammar Schools however were formed as a result of the Reformation, the majority of the medieval schools generally linked to monasteries, and thus falling under the dissolution of their foundations.
The many new foundations under the Tudors were not necessarily therefore indicative of increased educational demands, but were to replace the older dissolved schools.
Many public figures, who prior to the Reformation would have endowed chantries in their parish churches, provided instead Grammar Schools in their local towns. Such was the case of Lord Williams in Thame.
After the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, a general decline in Grammar Schools began.
Partly this was due to the belief that many of the schools nurtured the leaders of the Parliamentary cause, but more to the fact that classical education centred on Latin and Greek literature was being replaced by the growth and development of English Literature.
More modern textbooks were appearing, and many of the outdated school statutes were slow to be adapted to a more elementary approach to education based on reading, writing and arithmetic.
This decline was particularly noticeable in the eighteenth century, especially in country schools, whose endowments were generally much smaller than those great schools near to large towns.