In her article for the Guardian and her own blog, Professor Edith Hall has expressed dismay that more young people are not learning about the ancient Greeks and Romans in schools; ‘studying Mediterranean antiquity superbly equips individuals to think socio-politically and to persuade other people orally, visually and in writing. It hones transferrable skills like source criticism and culturally relativist analysis’.
Professor Hall sees Classics in translation (Ancient History and Classical Civilisation) as crucial in introducing the ancient world to today’s students, and I can’t help but agree. As a teenager from a state school background my first experience of Classics was studying Classical Civilisation at Sixth Form College, and my battered copy of Lattimore’s Iliad has now seen me through A Level, undergraduate and postgraduate study, as well as a teaching career.
The opportunity to develop the new Classical Civilisation qualifications for OCR has therefore been a dream job, and this blog lays out the vision behind these new qualifications.
Thematic and Modern
OCR’s new qualifications enable students to explore overarching themes through the study of a diverse range of materials and ideas. This reflects how usually in Classics material and ideas are contextualised and combined, rather than being studied in isolation.
For example at GCSE the ever popular study of Roman houses and city life is coupled with satire and Pliny’s letters, and the Thematic Components (11 and 12) blend both literary and visual/material sources to create an in depth study of Myth and Religion, or Women in the Ancient World.
At A Level learners can explore the ideas of Cato, Caesar and Cicero alongside the latter’s letters and speeches, or the ideas of Greek Religion in conjunction with key temples and artefacts.
This approach has received praise from academics and teachers alike. Our A Level Greek Theatre (21) component places Greek dramas in their performance context. This brings the plays to life, and is much closer to how they are studied at university. Also in Invention of the Barbarian (23) we have created a component which covers familiar ground (the Persian Wars) in a modern way (looking at the reality of the Persians, rather than just Greek ideas about them).
Professor Tom Harrison of St. Andrews University commented, ‘I know you have consulted widely with university colleagues, and it shows: this is much more in line with trends in research (than any past specification I have seen), whilst managing to be both accessible and (in my estimation at least) much more attractive to potential teachers and students.’
Diverse and Flexible
OCR’s Classical Civilisation qualifications showcase how diverse the subject is.
At GCSE we have introduced the study of Mycenaean civilisation; given the opportunity for in depth study of ideas about gender and femininity; and tried to rehabilitate the study of warfare to focus on ideas which will resonate with today’s learners, such as the plight of victims and refugees, and the role of patriotism.
At A Level students can study anything from Persian art and architecture; to Seneca’s ideas about love and lust and the poetry of Sappho; to the development of democracy in Athens; to one of the world’s earliest propaganda campaigns and its promotion of Augustus.
Having diversity is great, but it’s useless if you don’t give people the opportunity to create the best course for them. OCR’s Classical Civilisation qualifications have no prohibited routes and minimal compulsory components. Teachers are free to tailor the course to their strengths and the interests of their learners.
Accessible and Attractive
As mentioned above, I feel that Classical Civilisation can be used in a wide variety of contexts to introduce more young people to the classical world than is currently the case. To achieve this goal our qualifications must be attractive and accessible, and it is these two qualities above all else which have driven the development of the new specifications.
OCR is committed to making these qualifications accessible; with a full suite of textbooks from Bloomsbury in the pipeline, free to use translations of all literary sources, and the development of an extensive bank of resources to support teachers. We already have some great resources online, such as our switching guides which compare old and new specifications (for example this one which compares AQA’s previous A Level with our new one), GCSE and A Level fliers for use at Open Evenings to promote Classical Civilisation, and lesson elements.
More importantly, however, we have tried to create qualifications that both teachers and learners will enjoy. Greek theatre in context can appeal to drama students, the origins of democracy can be used to draw in those with political ambitions, and Greek art engages those interested in art history.
As Professor Hall asserts, studying Classics in translation makes the ancient world accessible to a wide variety of learners, and provides an amazing opportunity for them to benefit from the study of these ever popular civilisations. In a world where issues such as those of gender, race and sexuality are prevalent, a Classical Civilisation course which explores these can, we hope, prove itself to be both relevant and highly engaging.
Our new specifications and specimen papers for GCSE and AS and A Level, are online now. If you need any help or advice about Classical Civilisation then do drop the team an email on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the CPD Hub for our training courses.
Caroline Bristow - Subject Specialist - Classics and GCE Religious Studies
Before joining OCR Caroline taught in an FE College for seven years. During this time she taught a wide variety of courses, including GCSEs, A Levels and IB in a range of subjects including Classical Greek, Classical Civilisation, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. A pastoral specialist, she designed and oversaw G&T programmes and provided HE guidance and advice.
Caroline read Ancient and Modern History at Trinity College, Oxford, before progressing to an MSt in Ancient History. She specialises in Greek religion, with an especial interest in Mystery Cult, and also enjoys classical performance reception. She owns more copies of Homer’s Iliad than she cares to admit.
In terms of Philosophy and Religious Studies Caroline has a particular interest in Buddhism, political philosophy and philosophy of mind.