Studying Classical Civilisation in Britain: Recording the Past and Fostering the Future

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Classics


Far too few British children are educated about the ancient Greeks and Romans at secondary level. Studying ancient Greek and Roman civilisation, history, thought, literature, art and archaeology is not only exciting and instructive, but confers profound advantages: it hones analytical and critical skills, trains minds in the comparative use of different types of evidence, introduces young people to the finest oratory and skills in argumentation and communication, enhances cultural literacy, refines consciousness of cultural difference and relativism, fosters awareness of a three-millennia long past, along with models and ideals of democracy, and develops identities founded in citizenship on the national, European and cosmopolitan, global level.

Unfortunately, qualifications at GCSE and 'A' or A/S Level in Latin and Ancient Greek languages are hardly available outside the private education sector. There is, however, a financially feasible solution for state sector students: the introduction of courses leading up to qualifications in Classical Civilisation or Ancient History. Between three and four thousand teenagers currently sit 'A' Level in the State sector in these subjects, but these numbers could be substantially increased since both Classical Civilisation and Ancient History can be taught by any teacher, of any subject, currently employed in a school or 6th-form college and in possession of qualified teacher status, enthusiasm to teach the ancient world, and sufficient support.

These subjects prove extremely popular and successful wherever they are introduced. But they are poorly understood even by academic classicists, let alone the general public. There is no available study of their history; the canonical account of classical education in British schools ends its survey in 1960, which was almost exactly the moment when Classical Civilisation began to be introduced in a relatively large number of schools. The proposed research will remedy the absence of an authoritative history of the teaching of these subjects in schools and 6th-form colleges, and of a description of what they entail, by producing as its major output a 60,000-word book, available freely online, jointly written by the Fellow (an expert in Classics in Britain beyond the elite) and Postdoctoral Researcher (an expert in contemporary Classical pedagogy). The fundamental evidence they will examine consists of all the printed documentation relating to qualifications in these subjects issued historically by Examination boards, and the results of a Questionnaire distributed to as many individuals as possible who have experience of Classical Civilisation or Ancient History courses at secondary level at any time now or in the past.

But the research results will also be disseminated via a website, publicity films, 2 academic articles, features published in both national and local newspapers and broadcast in both national and local tv/radio news channels. Most importantly, the Fellow and PDR will engage directly with teachers, schools and the public in a series of public events designed to maximise dialogue that will feed into the research and public impact across the British Isles - in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as in eight English regional centres. The goals are to introduce or support the teaching of Classical subjects in at least 12 additional new schools or 6th-form colleges, to raise their public profile and initiate a public debate about their value and sustainability, and to influence educational policy, especially by getting Classical Civilisation accepted alongside Ancient History as a core Humanities subject on the incoming English Baccalaureate.

Planned Impact

The chief intended beneficiaries of the proposed research who are outside the academic research community are the children of Britain. The proposed research is designed to be an instrument in the advocacy of teaching ancient Greek and Roman civilisation and history in secondary schools and sixth-form college and in the introduction and maintenance of secondary level qualifications in these subjects.

But in order for this expansion to be be made possible, a range of different users of the research are envisaged and targeted in our impact strategies (several of these user categories are represented by individuals on our proposed Advisory Board):

1) National UK policy-makers and their advisers in the Department of Education, who are often not as well informed as they might be about the content of Classical Civilisation and Ancient History qualifications at secondary level.
2) Educational policy-makers and their advisers at the devolved level in the case Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
3) Educational policy-makers and their advisers and local and regional level.
4) Employees of the Examination Boards currently offering qualifications in Classical Civilisation and Ancient History
5) Classical Subject Associations including non-academic members (the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, the Roman Society, the Classical Association, Classics for All, etc.)
6) Charities supporting classical subjects in schools, in particular Classics for All.
7) In the commercial sector, publishers of textbooks and providers of extra-mural courses for both school/6th-form-college students and their teachers (e.g. Keynote Education, Sovereign Education).
8) Local communities where we have Project Partners
9) The general public, especially parents and children interested in finding out more about the feasibility and potential of accessing teaching in Classical Civilisation and Ancient History in schools.
10) The media. The proposed Fellow already fields numerous enquiries about Classical Civilisation and Ancient History in schools, and the proposed research would allow journalists to ground themselves in the fundamental data and arguments when writing about classical subjects in schools.


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