Classical civilisation passes EBacc test – The letter pages and observations

Well done to Ken Pickering for getting the EBacc letter, signed by no less than 133 signatures, into The Sunday Times‘ letters page today (23Feb2014).

The letter calls for the subject of Classical Civilisation to be included in the EBacc performance measure. Latin, Ancient Greek and Ancient History are already included in the framework.

Providing you have access past the paywall, you can read the online version of the letter, with the full list of signaturies, here. Here is the letter as it appeared in my print version:


If you cannot quite make out the letter, the content is thus:

Classical civilisation passes EBacc test

CLASSICS cannot, and should not, be studied in isolation, says Professor Christopher Pelling and that “the language and the culture go together” (“Giving the gift of ancient tongues”, News Review, February 9). We support Pelling. Classical civilisation opens young people’s minds to the glories of the ancient world and we feel a GCSE in the subject should be included in the English baccalaureate (EBacc) from September this year.

Michael Gove said in an interview last year that the “ principal goal of education is enlightenment; the introduction of a new generation to human creativity and the glories of civilisation in all their richness”.

GCSEs in classical civilisation play an unrivalled role in doing this. Of the 35 GCSE-level humanities courses accepted for the EBacc, only one is dedicated to the study of the ancient world. We urge the education secretary to make classical civilisation part of the baccalaureate.

Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture, Cambridge University, Edith Hall, Professor of Classics, King’s College London, Dr Lorna Robinson, Director of the Iris Project and East Oxford Community Classics Centre, Dr Bettany Hughes, Author and Broadcaster, Adrian Murdoch, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Robert Parker, Professor of Ancient History, Oxford University, Ken Pickering, Head of History and Classical Civilisation, Skerton Community High School, Lancashire

The letter is heavily redacted. The original can be found in Ken Pickering’s blog:

What next?

This blog would love to be part of the effort to take this further. So what next? We are keen to hear from you.

If part of the campaign is to raise the availability of Classical Civilisation at the Key Stage 4 (GCSE) level, then it may be prudent to see what other efforts can be made to persuade more schools to offer the subject. There are many schools without a Classics department and they would be the obvious schools to canvass; on the other hand many schools have a Classics department that only offers languages at Key Stage 4 and perhaps these too should be canvassed.

If the campaign wishes to raise the profile of the subject, supporters should note that, from next year on, the PGCE in Classics (offered at King’s College, London and the University of Cambridge) is to become the PGCE in Latin with Classics. Such a move can only mean a shift from a collection of subjects to having a primus inter pares in the Latin language (and therefore not Ancient Greek, nor Ancient History, nor Classical Civilisation).

If the campaign, supported by university researchers and school teachers, hopes to allow better access to Classics for non-linguist, at least those who initially do not possess an ancient language, then perhaps there should be a review of the first year Classics modules to see how it supports those who have risen to university level with a Classical Civilisation GCSE and A-Level, as well as those with ancient languages and those with no prior certification. A review of such a kind is not an indication of current malpractice, but for a future that is better for the Classicists to come.

So, what next? Feel free to comment here. We have achieved the letter. Many of us are signatories and some have worked hard to spearhead this drive. Out of this group, perhaps we can work together to bring the subject to the forefront, with many supporters and some drivers?

Footnote: an observation

There is a hierarchy of Classicists! Looking at the list of signatories we at Classics Collective have discovered the ranks of the Roman academia (and that of Greece).

  1. Professors (though beware the false friend of the Spanish word profesor)
  2. PhD holders
  3. Officers of influential organisations
  4. PhD students
  5. Postgraduate students
  6. Teachers and Teaching Assistants of Classics and Heads of Classics departments at schools
  7. PGCE students
  8. MA students
  9. BA students
  10. Those who either didn’t put a description of a role, or has no such description

Such is the cursus honorum

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1 Response to Classical civilisation passes EBacc test – The letter pages and observations

  1. Thanks for the write-up, CC!
    Essentially, the campaign is to grant as many teenage pupils as possible proper access to the wonders and fascinations of the ancient world. They study it superficially in their early years at Primary School but under 5,000 of them a year study it in any real depth aged 15-16.
    The problem is, schools (rightly or wrongly) value their position in the League Tables and the League Tables don’t count pupils’ Classical Civilisation GCSEs as worthy of inclusion in the English Baccalaureate (one of the key measures of a school’s “performance”)…so lots of schools don’t (and won’t) offer it. It doesn’t score them any points.
    To see the influence of the EBacc on Headteachers, one need only look at the stats; Latin, Greek and Ancient History have all seen an increase in their uptake since it was introduced (which we, as Classicists, are very happy about, naturally) whilst Classical Civilisation saw a notable downturn last summer (which we, as Classicists, are not very happy about, naturally).
    The only way to arrest the decline of the subject and increase our young people’s access to the ancient world is get it accepted into the EBacc. Only then will it avoid being ousted in favour of other subjects that already are.
    So, what next? Good question. I think the letter now needs to be seen in its entirety by the right people and the only way that will happen is if it’s posted directly to the correct destinations…

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