The tradition of Apposition dates back to the school’s founding in 1509 and was originally intended as the means by which the Mercers' Company could assess the teaching staff, the High Master in particular. They had the right to dismiss or reappoint the staff as a result.
In 1559, they removed High Master Freeman, officially for lack of learning, but probably for holding the wrong religious views. In 1748, they removed High Master Charles, who, it was alleged, had threatened to ‘pull the Surmaster by the nose and kick him about the school.’ Worse still, the number of boys had fallen to 35. From time to time, the governors objected to the High Masters taking in boarders and accepting presents and fees.
Apposition, which takes place in mid–May these days, has now become purely ceremonial, but ‘formal examination by question and answer’ remains its cornerstone — when some four or five Paulines declaim (usually by delivering a summary of an academic paper) and an invited ‘Apposer’ judges the quality of each declamation. The ceremony is combined with the award of prizes to those in the Eighth Form (Years 12 and 13).