A triumph against the odds

9th May 2014 at 01:00
When four students found their school did not offer Classics, they decided to go it alone

I have always had an interest in Classics. I wanted to study it at A-level but my school did not offer the subject. So I decided to teach myself.

Thankfully, I was not alone. I contacted a few of my friends and three agreed to join me. I decided on the AQA exam board because it did not have a coursework component, which would have been far more difficult to do when self-teaching. We opted for Homer's The Odyssey and Aristophanes and Athens as our two exam modules, primarily because of our shared interest in literature.

We were aware of the risks but the possibility of doing a module in January gave us courage. We saw it as a chance to test whether or not we should proceed with the course; if we had failed we probably would have abandoned the whole experiment. But with the support of my friends, I had confidence that we would succeed.

We found Aristophanes difficult to teach ourselves owing to a lack of critical resources, which were abundant for The Odyssey. And yet we all gained higher scores in this module. To prepare we held fortnightly meetings, which became more frequent as we neared the exam. These were all based around the syllabus, which was our bible, and we carefully made notes on the individual bullet points. As there was no textbook, we were heavily dependent on each other. We split the work by focusing on a play each. We read, analysed and reported back on each lesson, and discussed our ideas in the context of past questions, looking over mark schemes and model answers.

Our approach to The Odyssey was similar but our lack of exam practice may have let us down - between us we got two As and two Bs, but we all gained 88 or above in the Aristophanes and Athens unit, whereas the highest score for The Odyssey was 80 and the lowest 63. And I feel that our dependency on pre-existing material actually hampered individual analysis.

In addition, we ran a Classics society at our school. Towards the exam period we tailored the society meetings to our revision needs, which was definitely beneficial.

It was an interesting experience and I gained a lot from it, both in terms of academic knowledge and independent learning methods. I hope that in some small way my experience will be of use to those teaching Classics in schools.

Jonathan Shamir is a sixth-form student at JFS, a secondary school in North London

Top 10 Classics resources

1 Odyssey out loud

This video, featuring a reading of the opening lines of Homer's The Odyssey, will help students to gain a better understanding of the text.


2 Return to the source

From Aristophanes to Xenophon, introduce students to the original source material that taught us much of what we know about ancient Greece.


3 War games

In this lesson, pupils investigate how the Olympics were used by the ancient Greeks as preparation for warfare.


4 At home with history

Give students an insight into family life in ancient Greece with this detailed presentation.


5 Oedipus online

This resource pack contains a video and linked activities that take students behind the scenes at the National Theatre's production of Oedipus.


6 About time

A timeline and information booklet give students a whistle-stop tour through the history of ancient Greece.


7 Tales of tragedy

A podcast from the University of Oxford discusses how to define tragedy and whether it is still alive as a theme today.


8 Bridge the gap

Cambridge International Examinations' syllabus is designed to bridge the gap between school and university, and focuses on classical Greek authors both in the original language and in translation.


9 Street talk

This sideways look at Homer's The Odyssey is strictly for older students, but offers a fresh approach that will undoubtedly engage them.


10 Competition calling

Use this information sheet and series of tasks to explore the games of the Great Panathenaea and the festival's significance to the ancient Athenians.


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