By George Connor, Monifieth High School

Classical Studies is available via the Scottish Qualifications Authority at all levels from National 3 to Advanced Higher. For most schools approaching the subject, it is likely that National 4, National 5 and Higher will be the courses undertaken. These are all very manageable and clearly guided by the course documents.

At Monifieth High School in Angus, we began offering Classical Studies four years ago, to a group of S6 (Year 13) pupils as an elective course to enhance university applications and CVs. The small class was a remarkable success for both enthusiasm and content, and the next session we offered a senior class the full National 5 course; the following year (last session) we had more than a hundred pupils tackling Classical Studies, from S3 (Year 10) to S6. The subject is now established in the school, and had it not been for the pandemic we would have taken a group of pupils to Greece to follow up on our successful 2019 trip to Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Sorrento and Capri.

I am a qualified and fully registered English teacher with a deep enthusiasm for the Classical world, and have been supported by forward-thinking heads of department and school leaders. Having had no Classics education myself, since 2013 I have returned to the exam hall to sit Higher Classical Studies and Latin, and have enrolled on an Open University degree in Classical Studies, which will lead to a Masters and hopefully a PhD. This has very much felt like a vocation for me, and I find teaching Classical Studies deeply rewarding, not least because I feel like I am offering pupils the chance to do something which they would otherwise be denied.

The fundamental fact about Classical Studies (as assessed by the SQA) is that there is no requirement to study Greek or Latin languages for these courses. The texts are all available in translation, and there is no expectation that pupils will know a Classical language.

At all three levels, the course retains a similar structure, with the depth of knowledge being the distinction. All three look at Roman culture, Greek culture and Classical literature, as well as requiring a piece of solo investigation by each candidate: the assignment.

To sketch a rough idea of how this might be approached for National 5, a teacher may look at everyday life in Classical Athens, life in Pompeii, study a book from The Odyssey and Sophocles’ Antigone, with a pupil carrying out their assignment on the topic of attitudes to gladiators in the first century CE. The first three of these areas of study features in the end of year exam, while the assignment is sent to the SQA for external marking. A combination of the exam and the assignment scores determine the final grade awarded.

Mr George Connor, in his classroom, August 2020

Obviously, as the qualifications progress they become increasingly demanding with content; however, none are overwhelming, and each has a clear set of outcomes. How those outcomes are achieved can be determined by the teacher, and I have uploaded a number of resources to the Classics Library for those who need a bit of help in getting going.

What has been striking is the enthusiasm with which pupils take to the subject. There is a powerful sense of ownership and pride which seems to accompany Classical Studies in the classroom. Certainly, my experience has been that pupils can become immersed in this alternative world, and develop their own motivation to explore it. Little has been as satisfying as watching pupils – who might never have encountered the subject at all – go on to study it at university.

The pupils themselves phrase it like this:

“I love that Classical Studies lets you get immersed in a topic, rather than jumping from one to another. You get to see the whole picture.”

“It is my life now – I can’t wait to study it at university!”

“I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I do, but it’s now my favourite subject at school.”

“One of the things I love is that it connects to so many other subjects. You find words in Classics which make it easier to understand concepts in your other classes.”

Inaugural winner of the Mary Beard Award for Classical Studies, Saskia Birch, June 2018