My classical odyssey: how teacher Kieran Gates’ own classical civilisation teachers inspired him to bring classics to his school

As a teenager, I had no idea what I wanted my future career to be. The turning point was when my small state secondary school in Wiltshire began to offer a new GCSE led by two incredibly passionate teachers.

This GCSE was classical civilisation and explored the history of ancient Greece and Rome. The mixture of mythology, sport, war, art, culture and gladiator fighting had me hooked! I went on to do my ‘A’ Levels at a local grammar school and pursued classics. I fell in love with classical art, architecture and the works of Homer and Virgil in particular. After studying ancient history and Latin at university, and focusing on the history of Greek and Roman education in my dissertation, I realised I wanted to become a teacher myself.

I chose Teach First, a fast route into teaching, as I fully support its commitment to equal opportunities in education. In September 2016, I began my teaching career, training as a computer science teacher in North London as there were no openings for classics teachers. Teaching computer science has been incredibly rewarding and has taught me a great deal. However, I’ve never forgotten my inspirational classical civilisation teachers and I have remained determined to start classics at my school.

In 2017, I approached my Senior Leadership Team and suggested introducing classics as an optional subject in Year 9. The Year 9 course combined Latin and ancient history enticing pupils to opt for classical civilisation GCSE in years 10 and 11. Year 8 students at the British Museum, standing in front of the Parthenon Marbles, from Athens.

In September 2018, a small class of 10 students began their study of classical civilisation. Since then, we have launched an after school enrichment ‘Club Classics’. We have also offered Year 8 students an educational visit to the British Museum giving them the chance to explore physical elements of the ancient world and build their cultural capital.

“I chose classics because it is fun, interesting and useful for the future. As well as this, I enjoy it because it gives me a creative input in my life.” Jasmine (Year 9 pupil)

In a recent leadership meeting, I was asked to explain the value of learning classics. The importance is clear to me. While the grammatical benefits of Latin are easy to defend, classical civilisation and ancient history have other advantages. Classics in translation develops students’ cultural insight and analytical skills, which are relevant to many disciplines. Studying the history, art and literature of ancient civilisations fosters well-rounded, appreciative and intellectually curious pupils. In my eyes, you don’t need Latin or Greek for that.

I will finish with this thought. In education we often talk about making a difference. I like to think that I am passing on my love of classics to my students. Classics is now part of the DNA of my school. For the students who study it, the impact is huge. Classics and ancient history are worthwhile, enjoyable subjects. They shouldn’t be restricted to the few – classics should be for all!