'Why every state school should teach the Classics'

By Anton Kolaric on 17 April 2017

A head of humanities explains why his state school teaches the Classics ─ and why your school should, too

Now is the time to stand up for the Classics in our secondary schools. Budget cuts and accountability measures have all taken their toll on this intriguing subject of late, but I believe that every state school should allow their students the opportunity to study the wonders of the ancient world.

Here are five reasons why I think that all schools should offer Classics:

1. The range of characters

Caligula, Xerxes, Ovid, Socrates...the Classical world has it all, from heroes and villains to all shades in between. Students will be fascinated by the range of characters they will encounter, many of whom are prototypes for character types they will encounter in modern literature and film today. Studying Classics will give students the chance to delve into the psyches of some of the most infamous figures of the ancient world and shatter the old clichés of incest, excess and needless brutality that the Classics are known for. 

2. Similarities with the modern world

It is easy to dismiss the ancient world as an irrelevance. Yet Athens was the cradle of democracy and Sparta was where the quest for human physical perfection began. Only recently, one of my students was making the link between the Athenian demagogues of the late 5th century BC, and the recent rise of populism in the USA.

3. Giving students thinking space

We all know that studying history is supposed to encourage critical thinking, but how often do we read the same essay trotting out all the causes of Hitler’s rise to power? The ancient world is characterised as much by what we don’t know, as what we do. This gives students much more space to develop and express their own opinions and come up with some really perceptive ideas.

4. Avoiding the 'male, pale and stale'

Let’s face it, modern history topics are dominated by men. Teaching the Classics will give you a chance to introduce your students to a fascinating cast of powerful women from antiquity. From Agrippina’s malevolent manoeuvrings to get Nero to the top of the pile, to Olympia convincing her son Alexander the Great that he really was a God, your students will have a chance to look beyond the usual male-dominated view of history.

5. Helping your school’s results

With curriculums being squeezed by financial constraints and Progress 8 demands, the ancient world can help. From September 2017, OCR’s GCSE Ancient History specification is EBacc accredited, so your SLT will be on board with it.

Anton Kolaric is head of humanities and a teacher of Classics and Ancient History at Aldridge School, a large state secondary school in the West Midlands