Classics for all abilities at Greig City Academy

Greig City Academy is an inner-city secondary school in Haringey, London. CfA’s grant of £6,650 over three years will support an after-school/holiday Latin club for 20 Key Stage 3 students; workshops and visits to the museums for pupils in Years 8 and 9; the introduction of cross-curricular work on classical civilisation for all pupils in Years 8 and 9; the introduction of GCSE Latin and classical civilisation as an option in 2016; and finally a  2015 summer ‘classics week’ for Year 8 focusing on ancient Greek and Roman culture.

Deborah Hughes, the assistant vice principal, explains how they introduced classics into the school curriculum.

Greig City Academy is a successful, multicultural school situated in the north London borough of Haringey. Sixty-five per cent of our pupils are eligible for free school meals, and more than 40 different languages are spoken among the student body. We have about 900 pupils in the main school and a huge, vibrant 6th form of 240 students. Seventy-two students went to university from year 13 last year. Exam results are steadily improving at GCSE level, with English being a particular strength (72 per cent A*-C last year).

Classical studies is often seen as the preserve of the more affluent and/or selective schools but, with such a wide scope – language, religion, philosophy, history, oratory, art, archaeology, myth, poetry and so much more – it offers young people of all young people of all backgrounds and ability levels an opportunity to broaden their perspectives, to think critically, to develop skills in research, analysis and interpretation and to gain access to great literature.

When I broached the idea of introducing classics, the head teacher was very supportive. ‘Just get on with it!’ were his exact words. We also had a number of staff who have volunteered help or expressed an interest in assisting with classics, although we did need to recruit a tutor from the local community. We started with a Friday afternoon Latin club and were very keen not to make it exclusive to a select number of academically able children; we had an enthusiastic number of students volunteering for the club completely on their own. We kept the club to a manageable 15 students for the first year’s run.This meant that in the autumn term we were turning away children who had not initially signed up but quickly heard about its appeal, which was not something we had thought we would have to do! In terms of improvement, we will recruit a little more carefully this year, to make sure that we have the 20 most enthusiastic and committed students that we could possibly have.

Learning classics has been amazing journey for the students. They have watched a performance of The Bacchae at UCL and we have hunted for one of the very few true remaining pieces of Roman London Wall in an underground carpark in the City of London.

The classics club meets weekly on a Friday afternoon and the Year 8 pupils have loved being part of this academic and stimulating learning environment. ‘It really makes you think,’ stated one Year 8 pupil after a thoughtful pause, when I asked her why she wanted to carry classics on next year in Year 9. Studying ancient philosophy, trying out some difficult Latin translations, gaining a contextual background to ancient Roman politics, were all similarly challenging but amazingly interesting topics studied this year.

We gave our tutor free rein to design an innovative and exciting course for students who have reached secondary school with no previous experience of classics. The start of each session focuses on language work, with the second half focused on discussion or philosophy or a particular theme of interest. We have our own blog, which receives many hits, and we’ve also had some very positive press in the local newspaper.

Latin has helped with their literacy, with their study of other Romance languages such as French and Spanish. They have been able to make links across several cross-curricular subjects thanks to the learning from classics.

A new Year 8 class will be starting in September, alongside the current Year 8 who will be embarking on a GCSE course in Latin as they start Year 9. Learning classics has been amazing journey for the students. They have watched a performance of The Bacchae at UCL; we have hunted for one of the very few true remaining pieces of Roman London Wall in an underground carpark in the City of London; they have taken part in a ‘Great Roman Bake Off’, cooking real culinary dishes from the Roman times. They have also made mosaics and masks for Greek drama.

Latin has helped with their literacy and with their study of other Romance languages, such as French and Spanish. They have been able to make links across several cross-curricular subjects, thanks to the learning from classics. Our wish for the future is for all Key Stage 3 students to be able to study classics if they wish and for the enthusiasts to be able to take a GCSE in Latin. Thanks to CfA, we now have the foundations to make this possible.

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