Over this past term, Bristol’s Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition has been supporting some new outreach activities in local state schools. These have taken the form of a series of ‘Taster Classes’ in Classics, and have been made possible by a generous grant from the new charity Classics for All. Two students from the Department of Classics, Matthew Ball and Madeleine Fforde, have been given the task of introducing the ancient world to classes of 11-13 year olds. Judging from the feedback on surveys distributed to the school pupils last week, the children have been loving their first taste of Classics. “It was fun and thank you for teaching me and I want more lessons” wrote one student from Merchants’ Academy. “Very interesting and fun. Shame I can’t learn more. (I want to for GCSE)” wrote another from Redland Green School.
Classics for All‘s vision is to have Classics in some form available in all schools in the country. It is working towards this goal by supporting projects that help make more state schools become aware of the educational benefits and excitement of learning about the ancient world, and by supporting the training of staff who can teach Classics (there is currently a nation-wide shortage of Classics teachers). At Bristol we have been running a series of 10 week Classics Taster Classes in eight local state schools in 2012-2013. The classes are aimed at pupils in Years 7-9 (i.e. ages 11-13), with class sizes of up to 15. So far it has been very easy to sign schools up to the project, and several of the schools have reported a high level of interest in the classes from their students, with considerably more than 15 pupils asking to take part.
One of the issues we are currently grappling with is how to build on these Tasters and implement a more sustainable programme of Classics in some of the schools we are working with. Simply raising the schools’ awareness of the high level of interest their students have in the subject can have some effect: for instance, at the end of Matthew Ball’s classes at Merchants’ Academy, the pupils’ history teacher said that she had been inspired by the classes to do more work on the ancient world with her class after the Easter break. At Redland Green, a teacher is keen to set up a Classics department at the school, and we hope that the success of the Tasters there will help him make a stronger case for this.
So many of the students from our first intake of students on the programme have shown a high level of interest in the ancient world. How can we support them in their desire to learn more? One way might be to offer further classes to schools at a rate that will cover our costs, but not all schools are going to be in a position to pay this. We also need to consider whether, in future work of this sort, we should start trying to implement a more formal programme of learning over a longer period, which would, for example, enable the school students to work towards GCSE in Classical Civilisation, Latin or Greek. Several of the students at Redland expressed a desire to study Classics in some form for GCSE. One even seemed very conscious that he/she was missing an opportunity that would be readily available in other schools, writing in the survey: “Having a Latin GCSE would give me an edge over the Private schools, because lots of them do it”.
As we consider these issues, it is worth highlighting too that universities with serious Widening Participation objectives certainly have an interest in classes of this sort. Several of the students at the schools have asked to come and visit the university (and in response to these requests we shall be inviting all the students involved in the first year of the project to the University in July). Having young and talented university students in schools teaching lessons seems to be an excellent way of helping demystify the idea of ‘University’ for school students.
Overall, I think we can say that the classes are off to a very successful start. The students want to learn more, and we are exploring sustainable ways of helping them do so. Asked what he/she would like to learn more about, one student wrote: “Everything, I loved every moment”. Well done to our student teachers Matthew and Madeleine for all their excellent work this term!
Jessica Priestley, Thornhill-Leventis Postdoctoral Fellow