The teaching of grammar has been strongly debated for decades, often with reference to an alleged decline in the 1960s. This article takes a historical perspective on grammar, or knowledge about language, within English Education. In the eighteenth century, Adam Smith’s Lectures in Rhetoric and Belles-lettres offered a discernibly modern combination of English language and literature. In the nineteenth century, however, university English courses were divided between belles-lettres and philology, while the conditions of elementary schooling favoured “factual” instruction in grammatical “correctness” based on an ideology rooted in the emergence of Standard English. In the twentieth century, the Newbolt Report and Blue Books questioned grammar teaching, but grammatical analysis remained part of public examinations until the 1960s. The last fifty years have seen major advances in linguistic education, but curriculum and assessment procedures continue to conceptualise grammar as the prescriptive teaching of “correct” forms of language.