The summer months of 2004 raised all too familiar problems for the teaching of Classics in this country. In May, the education supplement of The Independent published an opinion piece entitled "What's the point of a Classics degree?" Irrespective of the (poor) quality of argumentation in the piece, the appearance of such views only further serve to establish popular (mis)conceptions of Classics as outdated and irrelevant to learning and earning in a modern society. Not long after this, though presumably unrelated, the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) announced that it would no longer examine, inter alia, Greek and Latin at GCSE and A-Level after 2006. The decision was taken without consultation with teachers and subject associations and only came to government attention through reports in the media. While this decision is deplorable per se, an effect is that these subjects will be no longer be available in state maintained schools which tended to use this board. At the time of writing the decision appears to be irreversible and will ultimately impact on the type of students that come to university to read for language-based classical degrees.
However, despite this negative backdrop, there was evidence for the ongoing and enduring popularity of contemporary engagement with the worlds of ancient Greece and Rome. In early May, Wolfgang Petersen's Troy hit the cinema screens and Oliver Stone's Alexander will be released in November. Whatever the quality or accuracy of these films, they will serve as a catalyst for increased in the subject. As the annual reports and statistics in this Bulletin on student numbers over the last few years show, the figures for students taking Classical subjects at university are healthy. Nevertheless, the subject remains under a great deal of pressure as a result of popular misconceptions and also from policy decisions and initiatives of government and funding councils which have more to do with the psychical and medical sciences than humanities. Within all this, there are, of course, the subject community's own views on where it is going and its immediate concerns and priorities. A key question in all this is how classicists and ancient historians can best correct outdated perceptions of the subject.
What follows is a musing on a potential image of the future Classics scholar working in the British system of Higher Education. This image is inspired by my experiences over the last four years as the Project Officer for Classics and Ancient History in The LTSN (Learning and Teaching Support Network) Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology. This piece also gives an idea of the work which has been supported by Classics/Ancient History team in LTSN (hereafter LTSN C/AH) and it points a way forward for the work in Classics and Ancient History as the LTSN becomes part of The Higher Education Academy.
During my time as Project Officer, one particular opinion has surfaced time and again at our events. This is the feeling that generic educational issues, and the events and publications which go with them, have little relevance and make no impact on teaching and learning at the subject specific level of Classics and Ancient History. There is only one way to solve this problem and this is to create an environment in which Classics scholars are willing and able to carry out pedagogical research themselves. Subject specialist academics will listen to and learn from each other and all agree that teaching innovations and practices need to be carried out with the same degree of rigour that is expected from research activities. This can be the only way in which a truly useful practitioner-led literature in the teaching and learning of Classics will appear. To this end, the Classics team in The Subject Centre have developed a number of initiatives. Besides the various events, the most tangible evidence of progress must the proceedings of some of our national conferences. A more important step, perhaps, would be to integrate panels on teaching and learning in major conferences. This would go some way to helping break down the dichotomy between research and teaching which currently exists in the profession. We have also tried to address this by hosting a panel at the annual meetings of the Classical Association. There are interesting examples in the USA of conferences which combine research papers with contributions and practical sessions on teaching.
These are initial tentative steps, but there is a need to build more substantially on this. In many respects, the current 'generic' context does offer the possibility to build on these beginnings.
Although there are many uncertainties, The Higher Education Academy already has a number of clear priorities on its agenda and one of these is Professional Accreditation. While this item is a hangover from other earlier developments, it is something which is going to happen. Rather than see this as an imposition, I think that this offers the subject-community an opportunity to create a substantial forum and, in the long term, an opportunity to develop a meaningful literature on teaching and learning in Classics and Ancient History. At the moment, all new lecturers have to undergo an educational training course in their own institution. Such courses offer little opportunity to focus in any detailed way on pedagogical issues of a subject-specific nature. However, if the Classics team in The Higher Education Academy were able to facilitate a module which was recognised as an integral part of their training, and not in addition to existing institutional courses, it could potentially create the circumstances which will bring about my image of the Classics scholar of the 21st century. Although aspirations are tentative at this stage there is a real opportunity to take control of this issue. Obviously, the two key related questions here. What should a subject specific strand in professional accreditation offer to classicists and ancient historians? And who would want, and be able, to be involved in progressing this debate? At the Special Consultation Meeting which was hosted by the LTSN Classics team and CUCD in May, there was very positive response to such a move, especially from the younger academics who would be most affected. At any rate, it does offer a forum to the subject community to build on past initiatives and to share ideas and work on new ideas. Undoubtedly, the issue of Continuing Professional Development will become an item on The Higher Education Academy's agenda. This is another area in which the Classics team should take the initiative. The opportunity to have a subject community of new and established professional sharing and working on pedagogical issues of real value to the subject community is a real possibility. Most importantly, it is likely that The Higher Education Academy will be able to provide financial support for such a development. As 'new' professionals share their ideas with experienced members of the subject community, it offers the possibility of establishing a meaningful Classics approach to many of the various themes which are being brought into Higher Education. It may also allow the subject community to influence educational policy rather than find itself reacting to external prescriptions. It offers the opportunity to build a genuine literature in teaching and learning on the subject. Admittedly, there is still not an obvious outlet for publishing such material. But facilitating such an outlet ought to be a strategic priority of the Classics team in The Higher Education Academy.
The Open University
The work in Classics and Ancient History in the LTSN has been hosted by The Open University's Department of Classical Studies since 2000. The existing team will be handing over the work at the end of July 2005 after the completion of their five-year term on behalf of the subject community. The Classics/Ancient History representative on The Higher Education Academy's subject centre steering group is Professor Lin Foxhall (University of Leicester) and she will be liaising with CUCD and the subject associations regarding the future. Please tell her your views.
As I was writing this piece, I learnt about the sudden death of Dominic Montserrat on 27/09/2004. In addition to his extensive publications on popular culture, gender and the cultural history of the ancient world, he was closely involved in the early development of The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology as its Development Officer. He will be sadly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.
|||The piece appeared in the edition of 20/05/04 and is still available on The Independent newspaper's web-site at the following URL, http://education.independent.co.uk/higher/story.jsp?story=522926.|
|||The piece appears to have been written in response to a UCAS publication, 'The value of higher education', a copy of which is available on their website (http://www.ucas.com) in PDF format at http://www.ucas.com/getting/before/valueofhe.pdf. Whatever the faults with and errors in this opinion piece, it is worth bearing in mind that humanist arguments for the study of Classics at university are not persuasive ones for every audience. There is an essential matter of getting the correct balance between the utility of the subject for employment, the issue of learning for its own sake, and outlining the significance of the subject content itself. These three areas are not, of course, mutually exclusive.|
|||Ongoing developments about this are available on the website of JACT (Joint Association of Classical Teachers, http://www.jact.org/). At our Special Consultation Meeting with CUCD and department representatives at the end of May (27/05/04), it was noted that OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations) Board is considering dropping Ancient History from its list of subjects.|
|||The Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology and CUCD have been co-operating to gather information about problems associated with offering ab initio language learning at university to a class with mixed level of university students. The intention was to contribute something about it in this edition of the Bulletin. On the one hand, I do not have enough information to write an informative piece on this topic which would be an accurate reflection of the position nationwide. On the other, the information which I have shows quite a variation in practice. In general terms, however, many departments do not appear to have a great problem offering ab initio courses to students at different levels. If often comes down to outlining very clear and different intended learning outcomes for the appropriate levels. Most importantly, many departments use the benchmarking statement for Classics and Ancient History to support the needs to offer language teaching in this way. At the moment, this appears to carry sufficient weight to persuade appropriate committees within institutions, but it remains an ongoing problem with Quality Assurance Agency. There is also a continuing problem concerning the requirements of students who hope to take a Classics PGCE. The benchmarking statement is available, paradoxically, on the Quality Assurance Agency's website (http://www.qaa.ac.uk/) in HTML or PDF formats at the following URL, http://www.qaa.ac.uk/crntwork/benchmark/honours.htm.|
|||It need hardly be added that the notion of scholarship further privileges certain forms, or rather products, of research over others.|
|||This issue was addressed by Vanda Zajko in an earlier edition of the Bulletin. See her contribution to 'The Cutting Edge of Classics: Debates and Dilemmas' in CUCD Bulletin 31 (2002)13-23 at 20-2.|
|||These proceedings of the two conferences are available in hard-copy or online. They are Old Wine, New Bottles: Texts for Classics in a Changed Learning Environment at University, which is the proceedings of the 'Teaching and Learning with Texts, Commentaries and Translations' in 2002, and Practical Strategies in the Changing Environment of Classical Language Teaching at University, which is the abstracts and selected papers of the 'Teaching the Classical Languages at University' conference in 2001. The proceeding of the conference in January 2003,'Different Lights, Different Hands: Working with Translations', will be ready in the near future. The Subject Centre's website is currently http://hca.ltsn.ac.uk/, but it is likely that this will change in the future because of the move into The Higher Education Academy. At the time of writing, no detailed information about the change or the timetable for such change was available to me|
|||A recent example is a conference on the Odyssey and a similar one on Sophocles which is being organised by Seth Schein.|
|||One hundred and six bids made it trough the first part of a two-stage application process. Brief details of successful round one bids are available at http://www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/TInits/cetl/.|
|||This was the fifth and final round of the FDTL initiative. The four previous rounds were managed by the National Coordination Team, but they have now become part of The Higher Education Academy.|
|||The other humanities subjects involved in FDTL5 did not fare particularly well compared to other subjects like Education, Economics, and Hospitality. This general lack of success may, perhaps, point to a problem: the need to adopt the appropriate language for projects in teaching and learning. Finding alternative sources of funding to develop projects in teaching and learning in humanities is not easy. However, some progress has been made and funding for two of the projects with a Classics/Ancient History element has been secured through the Arts and Humanities Research Board and The Higher Education Academy.|
|||The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) was set up by HEFCE and the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland. It was initially managed by the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE), but it now operated by The Higher Education Academy. Further details about this scheme can be found on its web-site (http://www.ntfs.ac.uk/index.html).|
|||The project has since been substantially developed and a booklet has now been produced which is intended a practical resource for university staff who teach ancient Greek in non-traditional classical degrees. It is hoped to distribute copies of this booklet to all departments in the near future.|
|||It is important to stress that the various subject centres within LTSN always had a great deal of autonomy in respect of their activities. Their success is one of the main reasons between the retention of the subject centre concept in The Higher Education Academy. This characteristic of subject centre work will undoubtedly continue in the future provided that subject communities demonstrate that they have a strong voice.|
|||There are some future possibilities. A forthcoming volume of Arts and Humanities in Higher Education journal will concentrate exclusively on Classics. This journal is organised by the Humanities and Arts Higher Education Network. The journal is published by SAGE publications who have also commissioned a book on Classics for their series on Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.|
CUCD Bulletin 31 (2002)
© LTSN Subject Centre for History, Classics and Archaeology 2002