From Latin to Ancient Greek in Streatham

Dr Efthalia Sini-Spencer, Classics Teacher, Bishop Thomas Grant Secondary School, Streatham, London

We introduced Classical subjects at our state secondary school in Streatham five years ago, starting with Latin. Now, with the support of Classics for All, eleven of our Year 10 and Year 11 students embarked on the next stage of our journey to build Classical subjects at the school, with a trial ‘Ancient Greek Club’ off-timetable in 2016-17.

The results have been incredibly positive, in terms of pupil engagement and achievement. Our students now wish to continue the subject to a full GCSE over the next two years, and our Head teacher is supporting its move onto the full curriculum. Students reported feeling more confident in their English language (we are a school where many students have English as a second language), and also they have particularly loved learning about the ancient background to much of modern society: the origins of theatre and drama, political systems and democracy. One of our favourite group exercises in class has also been the derivation of many English words which they use regularly in other subjects.

The excitement in the classroom has been palpable when pupils have found out that ‘geo-graphy’ literally means ‘writing about the earth’ or that ‘history’ originates in the Ancient Greek verb ‘I learn by enquiry’.

We have learnt four main lessons from the project so far:

  1. Students find great benefits of deeper understanding in other core curriculum subjects from studying Classical languages.
  2. A commitment to delivering a new subject area in a school can engage and excite students. It builds their confidence to master subjects which were traditionally seen as ‘hard’ and have not previously been offered to them, and it breaks down barriers between students from different socio-economic backgrounds.
  3. The model tried here could be replicated in other schools; the approach is scalable because teachers can be trained to deliver these subjects.
  4. Students do not need to study one Classical language to succeed in the other: some of the students had not studied Latin but performed equally well, and were just as engaged, in Ancient Greek.