Telegraph View: Keeping classics for tomorrow

Richard Blackledge
Richard Blackledge

How many Telegraph readers studied classics at school? I attended a council-run school and certainly didn’t, but impressively some state secondary pupils in Sheffield do get the chance. At High Storrs, students in Year 8 get the chance to study the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and Latin, before deciding whether to choose it as an A-level. But the programme, while safe this year, is under threat.

Staff claim that funding cuts, together with changes to the national curriculum, could make the course completely unviable. So, in a somewhat unprecedented move, High Storrs has set up a crowdfunding page in a bid to keep the subject going.

We need to be widening access to knowledge, not pruning it back further

Teacher Gina Johnson says the appeal for money is ‘new and innovative’.

Looked at another way it simply exposes the threadbare state of our education system. This newspaper has already reported tales of schools pleading for donations towards textbooks and materials - unthinkable 15 years ago, when uniforms, trips, lunches and maybe a few cookery ingredients were all parents were asked to foot the bill for.

It could be argued that classics is an outdated discipline and pupils would be best served by focusing on more modern concerns. But the Greeks and Romans lived in societies that helped point the way to how we live today, when works of great early literature were written.

The Greeks, in particular, valued philosophy, critical thinking and rigorous intellectual debate - which, many centuries later, remain vital qualities to foster in the next generation of young minds.

The topics taught in our state schools shouldn’t be stripped back to the bare essentials, with the rest left to those who can meet private fees. Needless to say, classics remains a fixture at Eton, and we’ve all heard the criticisms about our country being run by an elite ‘old boys’ network’ in recent years.

We need to be widening access to knowledge, not pruning it back further.