A few years ago, the wonderful Judy Nesbit, my then Head of Classics (now heading up the new Latin department at the NLCS Jeju in South Korea, gave me the opportunity to re-launch GCSE Classical Civilisation at BGS (it used to run many years before, but had been shelved following poor results, owing to the fact that it had become seen as an ‘easy’ subject for those who didn’t find the ‘more academic’ subjects easy… Obviously it’s not ‘easy’, hence the poor results.
My first few years of GCSE saw slightly disappointing numbers, which I characterised as “a start”. 12, 11… and then (current Year 11) just 7. We were advertising and enthusing, getting students to talk to those choosing… But they just had other priorities, and lots of other great options to choose from.
So two years ago, wanting to enable a simpler system in Year 9 (I won’t go into all the details, but it was pretty complicated, with some students taking 3 languages in 4 periods per fortnight each, some 2 in 6…) it was made compulsory to do Latin OR Class Civ (or both) in Year 9. About 70 chose Class Civ, and 50 Latin. 4 or 5 chose both. But we didn’t have a Year 9 Class Civ course, so we designed one!
It was great fun – we took an INSET day starting it off, looking at coherence, links with GCSE and the CLC, resources… All sorts of things. Did it work? Well, first, this is what we have ended up doing…
First half term: War With Troy
Using Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden’s fantastic audio CDs, along with exhaustive teaching notes and activity ideas, we started with Troy. The kids loved it – it appealed to those who found listening a refreshing change from reading, and gave a good background.
Second half term: Athenian Democracy / The Acropolis
So the idea was to move chronologically, but flip between literature and history. Bristol was in the midst of its mayoral election, so we designed a unit around the birth of democracy, incorporating Cleisthenes, Pericles, et al (Al was a very important figure in Athenian politics). This was not a success, to be honest: partly owing to comparison with War With Troy, partly the students’ political apathy, partly the sheer amount of material. This year we changed to the Acropolis, and columns, architraves and temples. Lots of visual stimuli, lots of labelling, some background (Persian Wars, etc) and a chance to go to have a look at some neo-Classical Bristolian buildings such as the Victoria Rooms. Much better, and the kids responded well (although some would have liked to spend more time on the wars – we encouraged them to continue to GCSE!)
Third half term: Greek Tragedy
Lots of detail on theatres, masks (including the obligatory ‘design your own’ session) and playwrights, followed by three weeks reading the Medea. Sometimes students reading aloud, sometimes acting out, sometimes listening to audio-dramatisation. Again, they loved it. End-of-unit test results through the roof – let’s make the test harder next year!
Fourth half term: Second Punic War
Hannibal! Working with the docu-drama Hannibal, Rome’s Worst Nightmare, we looked at the key battles, strategies, armies and navies, empires and influence of the Second Punic War. Last year’s course seemed to go well, although our own ‘learning curves’ with respect to this period of history meant the students did not, perhaps, get as engaged as they might. Then, this year, I got a random message on Twitter from Ben Kane, offering to come and talk to students if ever I wanted him to. I jumped at the chance, and he came and inspired, enthused and educated them for a good hour and a half. Many of them bought his brilliant books, and it certainly made this unit a success!
Fifth half term: Ovid’s Metamorphoses
They love Greek myths (best stories ever) and we found a fantastic set of re-tellings of Ovid, again by the incomparable Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden. They loved each one, from Midas to Erysichthon!
Sixth half term (after exams): Roman Britain
So… it made a good start. Kids enjoyed it, and numbers doubled for GCSE (14 in the current Year 10). We got it settled and ‘bedded in’, developed the resources and our own training, and next year’s Year 10 numbers for Class Civ are 32! Two sets, and much more like the numbers we’d hoped for!
It’s no longer compulsory for everyone in Year 9 to do Latin and/or Class Civ. The numbers for Latin next year have increased to 60, and Class Civ has just under 50. Greek has 16, by the way. If anyone asks me whether Classics is on the decline, I can say well, certanly not at BGS.