A free school with eureka moments on the timetable

22nd March 2013 at 00:00
Greek Orthodox secondary will teach philosophy and classics

When St Andrew the Apostle school opens its doors in North London in September, it will become the country's first Greek Orthodox state secondary. But while study of the faith will be important, it is not the only aspect of Greek culture that will occupy the timetable.

Students will be expected to show an in-depth understanding of philosophers including Aristotle, Archimedes and Plato as they get to grips with a classical education.

Failure to understand ancient Greek and Latin puts state-school students at a "great disadvantage" compared with their privately educated peers, according to incoming headteacher Robert Ahearn.

University courses from medicine to literature often refer heavily to classical languages and civilisation, so a solid grounding is vital to keep up, he said.

"The more you go into classical languages, the more you understand philosophy, culture, how society organises itself," Mr Ahearn told TES. "When you learn about classical civilisation, you also learn about the basis of how to argue rationally, how to reach conclusions based on an analysis."

Mr Ahearn's comments come after popular philosopher Alain de Botton said more needed to be done to popularise Greek philosophy among young people.

Mr de Botton caused a minor media storm when he suggested that teen superstar Harry Styles should teach his 10 million Twitter followers about the subject. The One Direction singer obliged with a tweet about Socrates.

St Andrew the Apostle will serve the large Greek and Greek-Cypriot community in North London but, as with all free schools, half of places will be open to children of other faiths or none.

The school will have a specialism in classics and languages, offering ancient and modern Greek as well as French, Spanish and Russian. By offering Latin and ancient Greek, it is following in the footsteps of the West London Free School, which made Latin compulsory in Years 7-9.

"The Greek Orthodox community in London is very proud of what Greeks have contributed to the world," Mr Ahearn said. "For many in the Greek Orthodox community, we have a really strong heritage. The Greeks had a lot to say in the development of civilisation and the community is very proud of that."

Mr Ahearn, a practising Christian, said it was also vital for children "to have the freedom to explore their faith in an educational environment" - something he believes can be neglected in comprehensives.

"Some teachers don't want to explore faith because they don't feel school is the place," he said.

A significant number of free schools that have been approved are to serve faith groups, which has drawn criticism from secular campaigners who oppose admissions based on religion (see panel, far left).

But retired headteacher Mary Karaolis, a key figure in setting up St Andrew the Apostle school, said the project had been "the lifelong dream" of Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in this country.

The free school programme, Mrs Karaolis said, had enabled the Archbishop to achieve his vision of a school that serves the area of London where the majority of Greek Orthodox families live.

The launch of the school comes after the only other state-funded Greek Orthodox school in England became embroiled in a row over a Muslim student who wanted to wear a headscarf.

St Cyprian's Greek Orthodox Primary Academy, in Thornton Heath, Croydon, ruled that the girl could not wear the headscarf at school, but her parents have reportedly applied to the High Court to challenge the ban.


A quarter of applications to open free schools in the past two years were submitted by faith-based groups, figures show.

A number of Jewish and Islamic groups have successfully launched schools. But other minorities have had less luck in gaining state funding: a series of applications for Plymouth Brethren Christian Church schools have been rejected by the Department for Education.

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