10 Oldest Schools in the World

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Informal schools have existed in the world for as long as anyone can remember, so it’s hard to be sure which schools have really been around the longest. However, all of the schools on this list have fairly well-documented history and are widely considered the oldest schools in the world. With the exception of the No. 1 school on this list, all of these old schools are located in Europe, primarily England. For the most part, these schools have been in continuous operation since their founding dates and some of them are even still in their original locations.

As of January 2020, all of the schools on this list are still open.

Please note that this list only contains primary and secondary schools as we have covered the oldest universities in the world separately.

10. Gymnasium Carolinum

Year Founded: 804 CE
Location:  Osnabrück, Germany
Type:  State school (public school)
Age Range:  10 – 19
Gender:  Mixed

Gymnasium Carolinumphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

While Gymnasium Paulinum in Münster appears to have been founded a few years earlier, Gymnasium Carolinum in Osnabrück contends that it is the oldest school in Germany. The two schools maintain a friendly rivalry over this title. Although it may not be older, Gymnasium Carolinum was founded in 804 CE, according to a certificate issued on December 19th of that year.

Gymnasium Carolinum has transformed over the years, from a cathedral school into a modern public secondary school. Since the 1970s, Gymnasium Carolinum has been co-ed.

Did You Know?

The first documented teacher of Gymnasium Carolinum was Master Brunigus in 1142.


9. Gymnasium Paulinum

Year Founded: 797 CE
Location:  Münster, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Type:  State school (public school)
Age Range:  10 – 19
Gender:  Mixed

Gymnasium Paulinumphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Rüdiger Wölk, Münster

Gymnasium Paulinum was founded sometime around 797 CE and is believed to be the oldest school in Germany. Reportedly, Gymnasium Paulinum was established by Saint Ludger after Charlemagne instructed him to spread Christianity in north-western Saxony. Saint Ludger built a monastery and later opened a monastic school, which is origin of Gymnasium Paulinum.

Formerly a boys’ high school, Gymnasium Paulinum is now a co-ed municipal high school that has a lot of autonomy.

Did You Know?

Since there is some debate over whether or not Gymnasium Paulinum or Gymnasium Carolinum is older, the two schools have held an annual football (soccer) match since 2001 and the winner is declared the “older” school.


8. Sherborne School

Year Founded: 705 CE
Location:  Sherborne, Dorset, England
Type:  Independent (private) boarding school
Age Range:  13 – 18
Gender:  Boys

Sherborne Schoolphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Steinsky

Sherborne School was founded as a cathedral school in 705 CE when King Ine of Wessex ordered Aldhelm, the Bishop of Sherborne, to found a cathedral and college of clergy in the town to relieve pressure from the growing see of Winchester. It is one of several old schools in England that has been in operating for over a millennium. Amazingly, Sherborne School still remains at its original location. Today, Sherborne School continues to be an all-boys boarding school, but also admits a few day students.

Did You Know?

In 1977, Sherborne School opened Sherborne International, a separate co-ed boarding school for non-British students who wish to improve their English language skills before moving on to study at boarding schools elsewhere in the United Kingdom.


7. Beverley Grammar School

Year Founded: 700 CE
Location:  Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, England
Type:  State school (public school)
Age Range:  11 – 16
Gender:  Boys

photo source: Geograph UK

Like a few of the other schools on this list, the exact founding date of Beverley Grammar School is unknown. Beverley Grammar School believes that the school dates back to 700 CE, which was when Beverley Minster was opened. Based on this founding date, Beverley Grammar School claims it is the oldest state school (public school) in England.

Although Beverley Grammar School is a state school and offers a well-rounded curriculum, since 2002, the school has specialized in engineering classes. Additionally, Beverley Grammar School is still an all-boys’ school.

Did You Know?

The richest man in the UK, Jim Ratcliffe, who is the CEO and Chairman of Ineos, attended Beverley Grammar School.


6. Royal Grammar School Worcester

Year Founded: 685 CE
Location:  Worcester, Worcestershire, England
Type:  Independent (private) day school
Age Range:  2 – 18
Gender:  Mixed

Royal Grammar School Worcesterphoto source: Wikimedia Commons via Newton2

Royal Grammar School Worcester traces its history back to around 685 CE when Bishop Bosel founded a secular monastic school in Worcester. The first written record of Royal Grammar School Worcester comes 1265 when Walter of Cantelupe, Bishop of Worcester, appointed four chaplains to teach at the school.

In 1561, Royal Grammar School Worcester received its first Royal Charter, which gave the school a permanent governing body known as the Six Masters. In the late 19th century, Royal Grammar School Worcester was moved from its original site behind St Swithun’s Church to its current location.

Did You Know?

Royal Grammar School Worcester used to be a boarding school and one of the dormitories, Whiteladies House, is rumored to contain hidden treasure from Charles I from when he hid at the school the English Civil War of the 17th century.


5. Thetford Grammar School

Year Founded: c.631 CE
Location:  Thetford, Norfolk, England
Type:  Independent (private)
Age Range:  3 – 18
Gender:  Mixed

Thetford Grammar Schoolphoto source: Thetford Grammar School

While no one knows for sure when exactly the school was founded, Thetford Grammar School asserts that the school has been open since around 631 CE when Sigbert, King of the East Angles, would have most likely opened a school for his court in Thetford. The earliest documented history of the existence of Thetford Grammar School only dates to 1114. The oldest part of Thetford Grammar School, known as the “Old School” made up the entire school for about 300 years and additional buildings were added later.

Did You Know?

Since 2017, Thetford Grammar School has been owned and operated by Thetford Grammar School Limited, a UK company funded by the Hong Kong-based China Financial Services Holdings (CFSH) because the school’s enrollment (and therefore funding) has been in decline over the last decade.


4. St Peter’s School

Year Founded: 627 CE
Location:  York, England
Type:  Independent (private) day and boarding school
Age Range:  3 – 18
Gender:  Mixed

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

St Peter’s School is another English school that has been operating for several centuries. The school was founded in 627 CE by St Paulinus of York when he opened York Minster on the same site (The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York).

Like most of the English schools on this list, St Peter’s School was only a boys’ school for much of its history. When other boys’ schools started letting girls in for Sixth Form (last two years of school) in the 1970s, St Peter’s School did the same.

Did You Know?

Many notable people have attended St Peter’s School including Guy Fawkes.


3. King’s Rochester

Year Founded: 604 CE
Location:  Rochester, Kent, England
Type:  Independent (private) day and boarding school
Age Range:  3 – 18
Gender:  Mixed

Kings Rochesterphoto source: Flickr via The Local People

King’s Rochester (formally The King’s School, Rochester) is the second oldest continuously operating school in England and was founded in 604 CE, just a few years after The King’s School in Canterbury. The school was opened at the same time as Rochester Cathedral and King’s Rochester remains in the same area today. Unlike The King’s School in Canterbury, King’s Rochester is still a cathedral school and the Dean of Rochester serves as chair of the school’s governing body.

Did You Know?

Music is a large part of the identity of King’s Rochester and it considers itself to be the oldest choir school in the world.


2. The King’s School Canterbury

Year Founded: 597 CE
Location:  Canterbury, Kent, England
Type:  Independent (private) day and boarding school
Age Range:  3 – 18
Gender:  Mixed

The Kings School Canterburyphoto source: Wikimedia Commons

The King’s School in Canterbury was established in 597 CE, not long after St. Augustine arrived in England. It is believed to be the oldest extant school in Europe. Not much is known about the early history of The King’s School Canterbury, but there is strong evidence that the school was run as part of Canterbury Cathedral during the Middle Ages.

Beginning in the 16th century, the history of The King’s School Canterbury is better documented. Over the next few centuries, The King’s School Canterbury became one of the most reputable schools in England.

Did You Know?

Girls were first admitted to The King’s School Canterbury in the 1970s for Sixth Form. The King’s School Canterbury has been fully co-educational since 1990.


1. Shishi High School

Year Founded: c.141 – 143 BCE
Location:  Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Type:  Public High School
Age Range:  15 – 18
Gender:  Mixed

photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Shishi High School in Chengdu, China has been open since 143 – 141 BCE, making it the oldest existing school in the world. The high school or secondary school is built on the site of the very first Chinese school founded during the Han dynasty, hence Shishi’s 143 – 141 BCE founding date.

The original school was burnt down during a fire and Shishi was rebuilt in 194 CE. Since then, a school has always existed at the site. Shishi High School became a modern school in 1902 and two years later it became a high school (called a senior middle school in China).

Did You Know?

Shishi High School is one of the top ranked high schools in China and is highly selective about which students it admits each year.

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