The Annual examination
by Leslie Watkins
A regular feature of the school's nineteenth century life was the annual visit of the examiner who, after spending three or four days in the school, reported to the governors on its work and discipline. The examination was normally conducted towards the end of the summer term by a university lecturer from Oxford (occasionally there were two or even more of them) and a sum of ten guineas, later increased to twelve, was set aside for their payment. This represented practically a month's pay for the average schoolmaster, and meant a good deal to a university don, and perhaps it is not surprising that there was keen competition for the work and the examiners frequently expressed the hope that they would be invited to come again and do the same work the next year.
It is very rarely that one finds any adverse comment in these reports. To the school the report was a vital document, for it was published and circulated locally and was one of the most important forms of publicity that could be arranged; so it could be taken for granted by any examiner who chose to submit an unfavourable report that he would not be invited again. On the other hand one headmaster, in his own report to the governors, referred to the examiners "who very rarely offer any criticism, but who pile on an almost nauseating amount of praise". So the task of the examiners was not an easy one, and they were presumably expected to steer a middle course. This system of annual examination continued until 1900, when the responsibility was handed over to the Oxford Delegacy, a body which provided a team of examiners who, by comparing their experiences at various schools, were able to offer better considered and more balanced reports.
From The Story of Shakespeare's School 1853-1953, by Leslie Watkins
(Stratford-upon-Avon: Herald Press and Edward Fox & Sons, 1953)