What is a Voluntary B school?

Development of the School System

Campbell College was formed as a charity in 1894 as a result of a clause in a will to deliver an education for boys. It was one of a number of private fee-paying secondary schools which existed at that time with elementary schools delivering the majority of education. After the partition of Ireland in 1920, the 1923 Education Act resulted in many schools (mostly protestant elementary) transferring to the control of the local education authority to secure revenue, capital and maintenance grants. Catholic and a smaller number of protestant and non-denominational schools chose to retain their voluntary status and their assets; controlled and voluntary schools were thus born with the latter continuing to receive 50% capital grants. By 1947 only nine out of seventy-five voluntary secondary schools had transferred to local authority control.

The Education Act 1947 brought significant changes and it formed the basis for our present public education system.  Elementary schools were replaced with primary and secondary schools which dealt with children to the age of fifteen. The existing secondary schools which provided full time education for children from 11-18 were renamed grammar schools and in addition to receiving capital grants they continued to charge fees. Some 80% of grammar school places were kept for children who qualified through the qualifying test (later known as the 11+); those parents who were not able to pay the costs were given financial assistance, in the form of scholarships, by local authorities.

In the early 1950’s the means test for grammar school scholarships was abolished resulting in at least 80% of school fees coming from public funds. The Minister of the day was determined that any such payments were to be used only to meet the costs of a pupils’ tuition. After considerable negotiations grammar schools were given the choice between two different categories of state-aid and regulation:

Category “A”  

  • 80% of places for pupils sitting the qualifying test. Fees paid by government
  • A capital fee of £3 could be charged to each pupil
  • 65% grant towards capital expenditure and the Schools meet the rest


Category “B”  

  • Not required to reserve places but grant received for those pupils who enter the school by the qualifying test
  • No capital grant
  • May charge fees at a level determined by the school

By the end of the 1950-51 school year, 31 of the voluntary grammars had chosen to become Category “A” schools and 33 opted for Category “B”.

The 1960’s brought the call to follow England and adopt a comprehensive system of education but Northern Ireland did not follow suit.  The Education (Amendment) Act (NI) 1968 introduced a new “maintained” status for existing voluntary primary and secondary schools if they agreed to certain representation on their Board of Governors. In return they would receive 80% building grants with the Education Authority responsible for maintenance and equipment costs. Most of the schools took up this offer.

At this time voluntary grammar schools were offered a similar opportunity if the governing body accepted “an appropriate measure of public representation”. The Voluntary “A” Grammar Schools and the majority of the Voluntary “B” Grammar Schools agreed to the proposal and so a larger group of Voluntary “A” Grammar Schools was effectively created; those “B” schools that wished to retain their assets and governing body status retained their Voluntary “B” status. Campbell College was one of six schools that remained in this category and today there are only two.

Revenue grants are now distributed by the Department of Education to all schools in Northern Ireland using an agreed Funding Formula, which is based predominantly, on pupil numbers and premises size; all post-primary schools receive grants on the same basis. Voluntary grammar schools receive an additional grant to reflect the administrative duties they have. The Governors of voluntary schools are empowered to employ all staff and to use the grants received to cover all costs in delivering the curriculum.