Another Boris classic

15th December 2006 at 00:00
Boris Johnson is rarely afraid of ambling into a sensitive debate. The Tory higher education spokesman says decent schooling in the classics might have averted the row between the Pope and Islam. Pushing for a greater emphasis on Latin, Greek and classical history in state schools, Mr Johnson cited the furore when Pope Benedict XVI quoted a Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, characterising Islam as "evil and inhumane".

"You've got to know who Manuel II Paleologus was," Mr Johnson said. "Hardly anybody in this country could remember who he was, let alone pronounce it.

Yet he causes a huge row, 700 years later. It's crazy to ignore the power of these subjects."

Mr Johnson spoke to The TES before he launched a classics programme at Cheney school, a comprehensive in central Oxford. The promotion of classics in state schools is led by Lorna Robinson, 27, who this year quit a teaching job at Wellington college, Berkshire, to take classics to the masses.

Eton-educated Mr Johnson said state schools were discouraging pupils from taking Latin and Greek: the subjects were harder, and schools were under pressure to perform well.

So the classics were being "ghettoised"-albeit in the rather green and pleasant ghettos of the independent and grammar schools.

"Universities have got a problem because every time they admit someone to study classics or Latin or Greek, on balance they are probably going to be admitting someone who's already had a pretty privileged education," said Mr Johnson, adding that "tragic" comments by Charles Clarke, the former education secretary, criticising non-vocational subjects such as classics, typified the Government's attitude. "They see all education as being entirely utilitarian, and about inputs and outputs and generating tax revenue," he said. "So you boost certain subjects that you think will boost the economy, like science or technology or law. And you forget the huge potential of the classics to enrich people."

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now