Community in Conference – Classics in Communities two years on

Classics in Communities celebrated its two years of work in a conference attended by many hard-working and dedicated people interested in spreading Classics. The conference, held at the Sidgwick site last Saturday (19th September), shared good practice from many organisations and individuals working in places new to Classics, Latin or Greek.


After the welcome by Mai Musié and Steve Hunt, the day’s programme opened with Arlene Holmes-Henderson outlining the accomplishment of Classics in Communities thus far. Founded to support the spread of Classics, the organisation has helped primary education practitioners with workshops that both promotes Classics in school and provide assistance to teaching – assistance that is both reassuring and useful to non-specialists teaching Latin. Classics in Communities is also engaged in collecting empirical data to make the case for the teaching of Classics, embarking on projects to collect data on the impact of Classics teaching. The organisation aims to publish its findings in the future and aims to focus its work on helping potential teachers of the subject and creating teaching material.

Within the presentation, Arlene highlighted a case study of a particular school that is mostly attended by students qualifying for free school meals, 60% of the pupils achieve a rise in literacy level beyond expectation in the first year of Latin teaching, rising to 86% in the third year. The benefit of learning Latin in terms of improving literacy is irrefutable in this case.


Hilary Hodgson of Classics for All followed in the the programme. Hilary explains the work of Classics for All as channeling funding towards organisation expanding or improvng their provision of Classics. She invites application for grants in this funding cycle – successful funding have been given in the past years to training, cover required for attendance of training course and resources. The current application round closes in January.

Tim Whitmarsh followed with a lecture to delegates on a framework to guide and assess the effort to “democratise Classics”. The conference then broke into parallel sessions where delegates were able to hear success stories of ongoing projects from Sussex to Sydney, all the while also sharing best practice. An interval of lunch was enjoyed in the impressive dining hall of St. John’s College and delegates were treated to a talk by Tom Holland on “Whores and the House of Caesar” – a topic treated in a newly published book by the historian.


The last formal item on the programme was the roundtable discussion. Questions were raised about sustaining the provision of Latin in places where it was introduced; the best way to promote Latin (should we use literacy as the primary reason for introducing Latin); the implication of the new GCSE syllabuses in Classics; and the outlook for Classical Civilisation as a subject. The delegates then decamped upstairs to the cast gallery for a well earned glass as an aid to digest all that is learnt.

The second Classics in Communites conference was a great occasion. A delegate commented on how nice it was to see so many academics and teachers in the same building. It was a genuine forum for sharing best practice in teaching and spreading the Classical subjects. Perhaps the conference would be better with more parallel sessions; fundamentally there was already a great deal of information and practice shared at the conference. The real shame, perhaps, is that it is not an annual occurence.

But to focus on the frequency of conference would be to neglect the fact that Classics in Communities is run by dedicated Classicists and, in most cases, this work is extra to what they do as part of the day job. The fifteen minutes allocated in the conference was never going to be sufficient to appreciate the impact of Classics in Communities in places where, three years ago, Classicists have never though of reaching. Like any birthdays, it is the children who celebrates their achievements and anniversaries and like any birthdays, we should really thank those who brought this energetic and smart offspring into the world.

For a twitter summary of the event see Cressida Ryan’s Storify summary of the event.

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