Supporting Classics in Birmingham and West Midlands’ Secondary Schools

Tenacious teachers and education chiefs met together at the University of Birmingham on 9 June 2018 to pioneer the future of Classics provision in secondary schools in the West Midlands.

The event was spearheaded by the national charity, Classics for All (CfA), and organised by Dr Elena Theodorakopoulos, senior lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham, and Polly Stoker, research student and administrator of the Birmingham and West Midlands Schools Classics Hub.

CfA has awarded more than £992,000 in grants since 2011 to train non-specialist teachers in about 700 state schools, many in areas of high deprivation, to deliver Latin, Ancient History, Classical Civilisation and Ancient Greek across all key stages of the curriculum.

Representatives of four ‘success stories’ who have benefited from introducing or enhancing Classics teaching at their secondary schools gave inspiring presentations at the meeting.

Anton Kolaric, Head of Humanities at Aldridge School, started out as a History teacher but now extols the virtues of Ancient History to the secondary curriculum, emphasising the ‘eternal relevance of the ancient world to modern civilisation.’ He added that highly engaged students have been making impressive links between the ancient past and present day such as current issues of body image compared to classical art, modern democracy with its foundations in classical Athens, and demagogues in the ancient world and the light they shine on figures in recent political events.

Simon Beasley, who teaches Drama and Classical Civilisation at Christopher Whitehead Language College in Worcester, is now the driving force behind the school’s growing interest in Latin. Mr Beasley advised those starting out to make good use of social media, especially Twitter, adding that all their text books had been generously donated. He explained that Latin could and should be learned by pupils of all abilities and from all backgrounds.

Jonathan Mortimer, executive principal at Hamstead Hall Academy, a Birmingham school with a deprivation level higher than the national average and where 53% of pupils do not speak English as a first language, enthused over the rewards of learning Latin for his pupils after it was first introduced as a lunch-time club.

Jérôme Gicquel, head of Languages at Hamstead Hall, took up Latin as a beginner with funding and support from CfA and has just taken his first class through to GCSE. He said ‘our kids deserve the best’ and praised the help and support available from CfA and the University. He added that pupils ‘feel quite privileged studying it,’ having previously felt that Latin was not meant for their kind of school.

Annie Gouldsworthy, assistant head teacher at King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Girls, spoke of the need for ‘vision and tenacity’ to introduce Latin into the curriculum. She suggested the process should be carried out in phases and added: ‘If you want to do this you will and can find a way.’

The event included an introduction to the University’s departmental Classics museum, which schools can access by appointment, and to the role of the Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Archaeology in providing ongoing support to teachers who receive funding and training through CfA.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to introduce or enhance the teaching of Classics at your school, contact the Hub administrator, Polly Stoker: p.stoker@bham.ac.uk