David Fitzpatrick et al.

This article contains four pieces which have been written by people involved in the teaching of Classics in Great Britain and Ireland. Its objective is to provide a forum to air views and highlight debates about the future priorities and developments of Classics teaching at university. Classics is here used generically to describe the range of subject types which are offered by departments and not just the teaching of the classical languages.

The idea for the piece came out of a meeting of the Advisory Panel for Classics in the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) which discussed various aspects of concern to the subject. Two members of the Panel agreed to contribute and several others were subsequently approached. The contributors are, in the order their contribution appears hereafter, Trevor Dean and Charlotte Behr (University of Surrey Roehampton), Bob Lister (Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge), Noreen Humble (University College Cork), and Vanda Zajko (University of Bristol).[1] It must be noted at the outset that the opinions expressed in each section are those of its author alone. The article has not been conceived as a tightly choreographed piece to push a particular agenda or theme. Its aim is to promote debate on key issues. It hardly needs restating, but the teaching environment of Classics at university has changed. While Classical Studies and Civilisation courses were introduced with great success to counteract the effects of ever decreasing numbers studying classical languages at school and in Classics departments, the position of the language teaching still remains as precarious as ever. Its position and its relationship with other aspects of classical study open a plethora of questions, problems and dilemmas. The subsequent article merely touches on some of the issues involved. Nevertheless, questions about the future development of the curriculum of Classics teaching at university and the interaction between its various elements are very pressing.

1. Student demand: increasing classical provision in HE[2]

The new programme in Classical Civilisation at University of Surrey Roehampton took its first intake of students in September 2001 (Combined Hons only, as yet). Though not a 'new' university in the sense of being an ex-polytechnic, Roehampton has only recently received its university title. In terms of its subject mix and its good reputation for research in the humanities, Roehampton does not quite fit the stereotype of a 'new' university. Our reasons for setting up a Classical Civilisation degree were threefold. First, we knew from our experience of teaching some classical history within the History BA that interest in the classical world could be aroused - beyond our resources to satisfy it - among History students, who usually have little or no previous experience of it. Secondly, we could also see, looking across other programmes in the University and at University of Surrey at Guildford, that there were a number of staff with teaching interests that included some aspect of the ancient world. Thirdly, we noticed that there were few possibilities of studying Classics at any of the new universities in UK. We assume that this fact narrows participation in terms of the students' school origins, parental background and ethnic identity. So widening participation was certainly one of the intentions with which we approached the creation of a Classical Civilisation degree, and this is reflected in our entry requirements: A-Level in Classical Studies, Ancient History, Latin or Greek preferable but not essential.

It is probably too early to report on how successful we have been in widening participation, however. Our first cohort of students was recruited through clearing: so, by definition, they were already intending to study something somewhere. Nevertheless, we would like to feel that the first cohort has widened participation in Classics, if not in HE: it contains several mature students and some from ethnic minorities. And we are confident that Classical Civilisation can be a good vehicle for including groups in society that were previously not considering HE as an option. It offers good opportunities to explore issues of current concern in contemporary Britain: issues of integration and confrontation of different cultures in society, changing notions of identity, changing values in many areas of social life. The relation between past and present forms an important part of the curriculum design and will be explored in a variety of ways, such as political philosophy and film studies.

What we can say is that, at the end of the first year, nearly all of our first intake would like to transfer to Single Honours in Classical Civilisation - something that we currently cannot deliver! How do we explain this? We believe the design of our curriculum might offer an answer. From the outset, the curriculum was made up of multi- and interdisciplinary elements. The multidisciplinarity comes from existing modules in History, Philosophy, Anthropology, Archaeology, English, Drama and Religious Studies. The interdisciplinarity comes from specific, new modules or attachments to existing ones. We believe that this structure allows students from a variety of backgrounds - often not having been exposed to the classical world before - to use their previous experiences in modern literature, drama or history to find an entry into that world.

Two other aspects of the curriculum design may also offer explanation for good retention of students: ancient languages and work placements. We took seriously the Benchmarking Statement's recommendation that there should be opportunities at each level to start an ancient language. Existing classes in New Testament Greek (for Theology students) were refocused, and new classes in Latin were started and opened up to History students and outsiders. Half the Classical Civilisation students started Greek (though less than half are continuing with it); and the other half intend to start Latin in the second year. In other words, for half of our students, an interest in learning an ancient language is aroused only during the course of the first year. So having an ab initio entry point in year two is vital. Secondly, the inclusion of a work placement has proved surprisingly popular: it perhaps attracts by allowing students to relate their studies directly to activities outside academe.

Finally, some thoughts on possible future developments. As an institution, Roehampton developed out of the union of four teacher-training colleges. Though most of its students are now outside the Education Faculty, it retains a strong tradition in teacher-training. A good number of our graduates in the humanities go on to do the PGCE, either here or in other universities. We are aware that there are very few PGCE courses in Classics in the country, and that there are concerns in the Classics community about renewal of the subject and its teachers at the school level. This conjunction would seem to suggest an opening that we might well be able to explore.

2. The decline of Latin in maintained schools: implications for Higher Education[3]

Over the last 25 years there has been a clear shift in the nature of university Classics courses, with the emphasis less on mastery of the classical languages and more on the history and culture of the ancient world (though ab initio language courses are available for students wishing to start Latin and Greek at university). This shift has in part been forced on universities by the sharp decline in numbers taking Latin and Greek A level: between 1965 and 1995 Latin entries fell from 7,901 to 1,625, and Greek entries from 1,322 to 283.

A closer look at Latin entries between 1990 and 2000 reveals a worrying pattern in the statistics. During that period A level Latin entries fell from 1,921 to 1,540 candidates, a drop of nearly 20 percent.[4] The drop has been uneven across different school types: 17.3 percent in independent schools, 37.3 percent in grammar schools and 69.5 percent in comprehensive schools (which provided only 90 candidates in 2000). A level Greek entries for the same period are even more stark, with an overall fall of more than 40 percent - even the independent school entry fell by 35 percent - and only 5 entries from comprehensive schools, and 11 from grammar schools, in 2000.

It is not difficult to identify the main reasons for this decline. Since the introduction of the National Curriculum under the 1988 Education Reform Act the compulsory curriculum has filled almost all of the timetable at Key Stage 3 (pupils aged 11-14). As a result it is now the norm for Latin to be offered as a three year course to GCSE, often limited to one lesson a week in year 9 (and that is likely to be off timetable). That in turn makes it hard to recruit sufficient pupils to run a GCSE class. When they do have sufficient numbers, because of shortage of time and because Latin is substantially more difficult than any modern language GCSE, it is very hard for pupils to achieve the A or A* grades that they, their parents and the school expect, and this then puts them off choosing the subject for AS level. Furthermore many schools are unable to fund small groups at AS level (10 is not an uncommon minimum class size), making Latin no longer viable in almost all maintained schools (how many independent schools regularly have more than 10 pupils taking A level Latin?).

The A level entry figures confirm what every Classics lecturer involved in admissions knows, that there is a diminishing pool of UK students eligible to take undergraduate courses which assume significant knowledge of the classical languages. Secondly, this pool is becoming increasingly unrepresentative of the school population: in simple terms, access to courses dependent on prior knowledge of the classical languages is becoming restricted almost entirely to pupils attending fee-paying schools and selective state schools.

No classicist can be comfortable with such a situation, particularly at a time when the government is pressing for much greater participation in higher education by students from disadvantaged communities. In a recent interview with the Guardian newspaper,[5] Margaret Hodge, the minister for higher education, said that she had never come across a part of the public sector that was 'so strongly influenced by class,' and she made it clear that universities needed to be much more proactive in redressing the balance: 'they've got to be rather more innovative about who they recruit; it's a matter of really hunting out the brightest kids.'

Many universities already have flourishing programmes to help forge links with local schools. In Leeds, for instance, Classics students go out into primary schools and teach Latin using Minimus; in Cambridge, PGCE students can act as e-tutors on the Cambridge Online Latin Project,[6] which enables schools with no classics specialist to offer Latin using the Cambridge Latin Course and a supporting web site.

But effective recruitment depends not only on reaching out to new learners in communities with little or no exposure to Latin in school, but also on providing stimulating and rewarding introductory Latin courses to attract, and retain, healthy numbers through to degree level. Although David Raeburn did a great deal in the mid-1990s to stimulate discussion about ab initio language teaching, little has been done to build on the questionnaire carried out by CUCD in 1995, whose findings highlighted the wide variation in courses currently available.[7] While there was some consensus on course aims - when respondents were invited to rank a number of possible aims for an elementary introduction to a classical language (with five suggested aims printed on the questionnaire), introducing students to literary texts and/or other documents in the original was ranked a clear first - every sort of text book, from Kennedy's Latin Primer to Reading Latin, was being used (though Kennedy hardly counts as a text book). The evidence suggested that too many ab initio courses were being taught to classes too large for effective language learning, using text books likely to overwhelm the students with grammatical terminology rather than enable them to read Latin in the original.[8]

It is not in the interests of the Classics community to have a diminishing pool of students, from a narrow social background, from which to draw its future researchers.[9] With the position of Classics in maintained schools now so critical, university Classics departments need to make a concerted effort to increase the number of ab initio language students who complete their undergraduate studies with sufficient competence in Latin (and/or Greek) to be confident independent readers of texts in the original. A sensible first step would be to establish an accredited training programme for all ab initio language teachers: this could provide both an overview of available resources and an opportunity to explore the wide range of teaching styles needed to meet the diverse needs of the wide range of students one would hope to attract.[10]

3. Fast track language learning in Latin and Greek[11]

It is well acknowledged that Classics departments are faced with decreasing numbers of students entering university with knowledge of Latin and/or ancient Greek. The task of trying to bring students up to scratch in one or both of the languages in a three-year undergraduate degree is problematic enough, but there is the additional and more troublesome issue of what to do with students who wish to do graduate work in Classics, Ancient History or Archaeology but whose knowledge of the languages is minimal or non-existent.[12] There are no easy solutions and certainly no short cuts but intensive language courses have been shown to be remarkably effective.

Intensive Latin and Greek courses were first developed in the USA and were based on techniques pioneered at the Monterey Language School by the US army for teaching its soldiers the languages of countries in which they were going to be based. Research done by the military showed that five hours a day for ten weeks was the optimal set-up which provided the greatest retention levels.[13] The University of Berkeley, California was the first to apply the principle to Greek and Latin and a number of similar courses now exist in North America. Total and intense immersion has proved very successful. At Cork we have set up the first European version of this model. At present the constraints of our own university system and the pressure on teaching resources mean that we can run the course for only eight weeks and with fewer classroom hours (though we are increasing these to four hours a day next year).[14] Six weeks are spent completing Reading Latin and Reading Greek and a further two weeks in reading a text and learning about all the tools available for use in this activity. We have found that under these conditions the grammatical foundation of the languages is well retained but, as might be expected, vocabulary retention is not as high unless the students are able to follow up the course with more formal training.

For courses of this type to work most effectively, the support of those who can benefit from it is essential. While our course itself is successful, it is being availed of more by students outside Classics than inside. Yet the lack of acquisition of Latin and Greek is a recognisable problem in UK Classics departments. There is a need for various provisions to be put in place to help students who must acquire extra language training at the graduate level. First, there must be a positive and open attitude to this method of teaching the languages - it has been proven to work; and active encouragement must be given to students who wish to avail of it. Secondly, intensive courses do not come cheaply and if a student has to devote a summer to them they are not only paying for the course but also giving up the opportunity to make money at the same time. Some provision must be made at some level to provide sources of funding to ease the financial burden on students who are in need of an intensive course.[15] Thirdly, the pressure now put on students to finish graduate work in three years if they are receiving funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), for example, is unacceptable if they are also under pressure to learn one of the languages first. Nor should they be denied funding from such bodies if their need to learn a language will inhibit finishing within three years. Fourthly, there should be some provision made by Classics departments to encourage and provide opportunities for students returning from intensive courses to continue some sort of formal or guided training. Graduate reading classes would benefit not only students coming from an intensive course but also students who start languages only at the BA level.[16] And it is important to remember that the problem of students lacking training in the languages is not one exclusive to Classics. Such classes could be made available also to students in other disciplines looking for a way to keep up formal training after an intensive course.[17] Finally, the Summer School is an ideal training ground for graduate students with an aptitude and enthusiasm for language teaching to get formal and valuable experience teaching Latin and Greek (and indeed thus improving their own understanding of the languages).

There is no reason why students starting the languages late cannot attain mastery of them but they need encouragement and real support on all levels.

4. The rhetoric of symbiosis: teaching and research in the contemporary academy[18]

We are all familiar with the rhetoric of symbiosis that assures subject review teams, university quality assurance committees and potential students of the intimate relationship between our teaching and research. It has become a commonplace that each area of our practice is enhanced by involvement with the other and we assert this with confidence in our public documents. We also use it as an argument for continuing to employ people in universities who are skilled in the two areas and for promoting people on the basis of their excellence in both. Within our institutions, however, it is often the case that far from existing in a state of creative inter-dependency, teaching and research compete in a way that enforces the development of a hierarchy between them. People become categorised as either good teachers or prolific researchers and the latter grouping, in practice, is valued more highly. This can cause demoralisation amongst those who feel that genuine pre-eminence in teaching is not rewarded sufficiently and it can lead to a culture of complaint wherein anything which distracts attention from an individual's own work is regarded as a nuisance. It may have a particularly pernicious effect on those entering the profession who are likely to be encouraged to prioritise publication at the expense of all else and who will have known nothing other than an academy driven by output.

The hierarchy that has developed can be demonstrated by the differing attitudes within the academy to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and the Teaching Quality Assessments (TQA or 'Subject Review'). The former is for the most part tolerated as a necessary evil that does its job adequately in an imperfect world, whereas the latter is almost without exception viewed as ideology-driven and coercive to an unacceptable degree. At a time when the future of both of these institutions is unclear it is worth challenging our complacency in attitude to both of them. There are certainly huge problems with the Subject Review, not least the lack of an appeals procedure once a judgement has been made. But we can also criticise the RAE for its homogenising impact upon our intellectual life and for its imposition of the criteria by means of which our work is valued. My point here is not simply that there are significant flaws in both the RAE and the Subject Review, nor is it that each process cannot help but enforce a particular ideological agenda. It is rather that our higher degree of tolerance towards the RAE reflects a collective attitude that research is what we as academics do and research is what we should be judged by. Our teaching practices, in comparison, are lower down on our list of priorities and we resent to a much greater degree the time we have to spend preparing for their evaluation.

There are practical ways in which teaching and research operate in competition with one another rather than in harmony. Everyone now is encouraged to apply for research grants in order that their department can buy in teaching to replace them whilst they complete their projects. It increases a department's prestige if it receives a number of AHRB or Leverhulme grants in any given period and receipt of these awards contributes towards its rating in the RAE. The process of completing the paperwork involved in such applications is intensely time-consuming but practice is making perfect and many institutions now employ professionals to help academics in this area. But if a grant application is successful it has an obvious effect on the teaching in the department.

Anyone who has been involved in the planning of a teaching programme will be familiar with the difficulties involved in replacing members of staff at very short notice and in ensuring coverage and coherence for the year ahead. Here, as so often, the demands of the two areas are in conflict: in terms of quality assurance it is important that our curricula are designed with a combination of core and optional units whose rationale can be clearly explained, and that students are provided with any information they need in plenty of time to make their choices; in practice too often these days, because of a research strategy that depends upon individuals soliciting funding from external bodies, departments are unsure who will be doing their teaching until the very last minute and the units which are offered have more to do with who is available to teach them than with the requirements of the curriculum. This may be a source of resentment in departments both amongst students and amongst the staff who must continue to ensure delivery of the programme whilst their colleagues are on leave. But it is a lack of a consistent strategy at the highest level that is to blame here. We cannot criticise those who have been encouraged to apply for research grants for being successful at obtaining them.

It is not only traditional research projects that take people out of the mainstream of departmental life. There is more money in the system than ever before to free people up to take on teaching-related projects, and many universities and the LTSN are actively promoting the use of their funds for this purpose. The fact remains, however, that the competition for teaching and learning grants is conspicuously less than for research grants, and that young academics are much less likely to apply for them if they are thinking in terms of advancing their careers. There is only a limited amount of time available, and it is clear that at the moment research publication is the route that leads to the quickest success. But it is not clear quite where the profession thinks it is heading if its investment in the future consists solely in training researchers. There are very few research-only posts, and we are all highly aware that our survival in the institutions of the academy depends on our ability to communicate the fascination and significance of classics to a wider world. We must continue to inspire people with our teaching or our subject will die. In this regard the opposition between teaching and research can only damage our interests as a community. At national level in terms of funding strategy, at institutional level in terms of planning and promotion policies, and in the classroom in terms of the way we devise and deliver our units, symbiosis must not be allowed to remain an otiose trope. In order to resist effectively the lazy formulae of the QAA's 'best practice' and to ensure that our thinking is continually challenged and renewed, we must rediscover its vitality: teaching and research can and should mutually enhance each other. We should be thinking about how we can re-organise in order to manage this relationship more creatively.

Concluding Note

As the preparation of this article was entering its final stages, it was announced that the Queen's University of Belfast had voted to close its Classics Department. This perverse decision, which leaves an entire region without any teaching provision in Classics and its languages at university, appears to be irreversible. It is an unfortunate reminder that position of Classics cannot be taken for granted. Nonetheless, as the contribution by Dean and Behr highlights, interest in the Classical world still remains strong among students. But there is a need to debate how best to create teaching provision for Classics at university which is both diverse and coherent. There is a need for a frank discussion about the reality of the different types of student taking Classics courses and their objectives and ambitions.

Most contributions in the piece bear on the issue of language teaching. Two sections in particular have shown that the provision of language teaching at university is not merely an 'academic' topic. It has profound implications for two reasons. First, there is a need to provide adequately qualified graduates who could go on to teach the languages at school. This may ultimately lead to a more positive profile for Classical subjects at school. Second, there are many able Classical Civilisation/Studies and Ancient History students who wish to proceed to postgraduate work. As they are the potential researchers and academics of the future, it is important that they have the opportunity to grapple with the language at as an early stage as possible. Their research potential will be severely challenged if they must spend significant time improving their language ability. In many respects, it seems that language teaching and Classical Studies/Civilisation have been considered mutually exclusive subjects. However, there are currently a number of important teaching initiatives which bring together language teaching and Ancient History/Classical Civilisation so that they enhance one another.[19] There is, perhaps, a great need to organise a coherent debate on how best to organise language provision to meet the needs of the students. It may no longer be 'best practice' to coerce students to take one or both of the languages for a specified period, no matter how much one thinks that every student 'ought' to work on the languages. But equally it is surely not 'best practice' to exclude promising students from the possibility of a teaching career in school or university by restricting their language learning opportunities. In this connection, it would be worth trying to put pressure on the AHRB to follow the practice of the ESRC (Economic & Social Research Council), which allows funded research students both extra time and financial resources if they have to learn a 'difficult' language. Furthermore, it is necessary to build on the growing evidence that students without previous experience of classical subjects respond positively when they meet classical material in other university courses. How can these opportunities be increased and can they be developed to include exposure to classical languages?

This article has been organised by the Classics team from the LTSN Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology and facilitated by generous assistance of the editor of the CUCD Bulletin. The LTSN is an initiative which has been funded by the HE funding bodies in the UK to promote good teaching and learning practices at university and to encourage its dissemination. Recently, the funding councils announced that support for the LTSN would be extended until the end of 2004. The work in Classics in the LTSN is currently hosted by the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University. As this article, together with several references throughout the various pieces, indicates, the Classics team are committed to facilitating the continued discussion on the Classics curriculum. In this spirit, an open seminar on curriculum development in classical subjects will be held in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Higher Education Research Group in autumn 2002. At the Classical Association AGM in 2003 (University of Warwick, 11-14 April), there will be a specific panel which will provide an opportunity to discuss these issues. The Classics team always welcomes suggestions and advice from the subject community on how best to further this debate. The contact details for Classics are available on the web-site,

The Open University

[1] The introductory and concluding notes to this multi-authored article have been written by Dr David Fitzpatrick and Dr Lorna Hardwick, who are the Project Officer and Subject Director respectively for Classics in the LTSN Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology. [back]

[2] This piece has been written jointly by Professor Trevor Dean and Dr Charlotte Behr from the School of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the University of Surrey Roehampton. [back]

[3] This piece was contributed by Mr Bob Lister, who is based at the Education Faculty at the University of Cambridge. [back]

[4] Figures from the AQA Research and Statistics Group, Guildford. [back]

[5] Interview with Jackie Ashley and Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 24 June 2002. [back]

[6] Information about the Cambridge Online Latin Project can be found at [back]

[7] See CUCD Bulletin 24 (1995), also available online at bulletin.html#1995. [back]

[8] Some of the issues in this area are addressed in the proceedings of the LTSN HCA-Classics conference 'Teaching and Learning with Texts, Commentaries and Translations' which was held at De Montfort University Milton Keynes on 26 January 2002. The proceedings will be made available in hard copy and online at by early autumn 2002. Hard copies will be distributed to Departments and copyright libraries, and some other copies may be obtained from Dr David Fitzpatrick, The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology, Department of Classical Studies, The Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA. [back]

[9] See G. Shipley, 'UCAS data on applications in Classical studies, 1998-2000', CUCD Bulletin 30 (2001) 14-31. Shipley's analysis shows that applications for Classics are more dominated by those from independent schools and the South-East than are those for Classical Civilisation and, especially, Ancient History. At the time of completing this piece, CUCD Bulletin 30 was not yet available online. [back]

[10] Some of the issues involved here were addresses in the first national conference hosted by LTSN HCA-Classics in January 2001. The proceedings of this conference, 'Practical strategies in the changing environment of Classical language teaching at university', are available online at A limited number of hard copies remain. Please contact Dr David Fitzpatrick (see n. 8 above) for availability. [back]

[11] This piece was written by Dr Noreen Humble from the Department of Ancient Classics at University College Cork. [back]

[12] The problem is not limited to Classics but is of concern in the wider academic community, as a recent discussion on the Ficino email list (devoted to all aspects of the Renaissance and Reformation) showed. The problem is apparent even in places where we might not expect it to be, e.g. in Germany. [back]

[13] I am grateful to Professor John Dillon for enlightenment on the principle behind the North American summer schools. [back]

[14] Details of the set up of the Cork Summer School can be found at [back]

[15] In the way that this year the Classical Association has generously provided bursary money for British graduate students to attend the Cork Summer School. [back]

[16] Again the North American system makes provisions for this. Most postgraduate programmes involve some course work and a system of comprehensive exams which help to consolidate knowledge of the languages gained, in most cases, only from a BA degree or an extra year between BA and MA or PhD. [back]

[17] See Elizabeth Irwin's comments on her experience in this regard as a graduate student in Cambridge ('Three ways of learning: student, postgraduate and teacher' in D. G. Fitzpatrick & L. P. Hardwick, (eds.), Practical Strategies in the Changing Environment of Classical Language Teaching at University (Milton Keynes, The Open University), 5-11). She notes the positive benefits of reading classes and the lack of provision for more formal consolidation of language skills. [back]

[18] The section has been written by Dr Vanda Zajko from the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Bristol. [back]

[19] Professor Graham Shipley and Dr Eva Parisinou from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester have received some funding from LTSN Teaching Development Grants for a project on developing a flexible structure for teaching Greek to archaeologists and ancient historians. The project assesses a flexible structure for effective delivery of language-based teaching in ancient Greek to students taking courses in which classical languages are a secondary component (e.g. ancient history, archaeology, classical archaeology) and where a high level of expertise in language is not required. This structure also serves as a resource to impart transferable linguistic skills to students who will typically have little experience of foreign languages, and who may have been deterred from traditional classics courses by the language requirements. [back]

CUCD Bulletin 31 (2002)
© LTSN Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology 2002

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