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
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