Classics campaigners put Glasgow secondary on a pedestal

19th March 2004 at 00:00
A school in Glasgow's east end could be the unlikely focus of a campaign to retain the training of classics teachers in Scotland.

Campaigners fear that the imminent retiral from Strathclyde University of Tony Williams, Scotland's only classics education lecturer, will stifle the subject due to the lack of qualified teachers. The future of classics now appears to be at the centre of a stand-off between the Scottish Executive and the university.

A group of students on the current Strathclyde course have predictably recruited support for their campaign from teachers in independent schools, most of which teach classics.

But they also point out the success of the classics department in Eastbank Academy in Glasgow, which they claim "exposes the lie that classics is a purely elitist subject". It is simply being forced into that mould by denying pupils the opportunity to study it, they say.

Eastbank, one of 34 state schools still offering the subject, has two full-time classics teachers. Jim Dalziel, the headteacher, says they produce some of the best examination results in the school and standards compare favourably with independent schools.

Mr Dalziel said: "It would be extremely regrettable if something that parents and children want were to disappear through a lack of investment.

We have kept classics going based on good teachers, good teaching and the demand of the children. It is here to stay."

The lack of a designated classics lecturer in Scottish teacher education institutions and the subsequent disappearance of the classical element would "significantly impoverish Scottish education", according to Ronald Knox, senior teacher in the classics department at Glasgow University.

"Education is about the opportunity to learn and it would be bizarre to starve schools of teachers in these subjects at a time when interest in novels and films on classical subjects has never been greater and when there are many takers for classical studies courses in the universities," Mr Knox said.

A spokesperson for Strathclyde University said the decision had been taken to postpone entries for a year because of Mr Williams's retirement and lack of demand. At present there are eight students.

The faculty of education has a firm commitment to reinstate the course for the 2005-06 session, she added, but the Scottish Executive is demanding a guarantee that the students will find jobs, something the university would find difficult to predict two years hence.

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "Our planning work matches teaching supply to subjects required. There is currently no demand for classics teachers.

"It would be irresponsible to train teachers for subjects where there are no vacancies. It costs pound;23,000 per teacher to fund their probationary year, with no guarantee of future employment.

"There is no logical reason why courses must run every year, and other courses have been temporarily suspended by universities before. Doing this helps match supply to demand while not preventing a subject being studied at school."

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