The endowed grammar schools had certainly made progress since 1869. Fearon told the select committee of 1886-7 that between 1868 and 1883 the numbers of boys and girls in schools for which schemes had been made had more than doubled—from about 13,000 to about 27,000 (PP 1886 IX:65:627; 66:629). A similar impression is conveyed in the local surveys conducted for the Bryce Commission, where improvements were noted in counties as different as Surrey and the West Riding (BC VII: 8 (Surrey); 265 (West Riding)). In the latter county Fitch, in his report to the Taunton Commission, had counted twenty-nine schools with 1,836 pupils giving some secondary education. At the time of the Bryce survey there were thirty-six schools with 3,597 pupils. Yet it is easy to over-estimate the success of the reforms. Some schools had certainly made major advances—Bradford Grammar School, the Harpur Trust schools at Bedford, Dulwich College in London. A few like Tonbridge or Sedbergh had moved into the ranks of the public boarding schools. Yet the successes were comparatively few, and most of them were schools which had been fairly successful before 1869, or had a large endowment, or both. Many—perhaps the majority—of the grammar schools were in a weak position in the last decade of the century. Numbers fluctuated rapidly; success could be followed by failure within only a few years.
The situation differed a good deal between the large towns and the country districts. In the major cities there was often competition between the grammar school, the higher-grade schools of the school boards, and the technical college. The French observer, Max Leclerc, praised Birmingham for its well-organized system, though he thought Manchester deficient in secondary schools and criticized the standards attained (Leclerc 1894a: 132, 163). Even at Birmingham the criticism was made that the King Edward’s schools were inadequate to meet the demand (Acland and Llewellyn Smith 1892:258, 275). At Manchester the grammar school, which had a fine academic record, suffered from the competition of the higher-grade schools and of the Hulme Grammar School, which opened in 1887. Manchester was a pioneer, however, in trying to harmonize the work of the various institutions. In 1894-6 the ‘Manchester