Thursday, 7 September 2017

Bristol Classics Hub (South West): reflecting on our first year

by Hannah Walsh

The Bristol Classics Hub was set up in September 2016 to support the development of classical subjects in state schools in the South West. Funded by Classics for All and the Institute of Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition and delivered in partnership with the University of Bristol, the hub aims to widen access to Classics by offering a powerful and stable focus for regional development.

Prior to establishing the hub, we carried out preliminary research in June 2016 to gauge the level of interest among headteachers and teachers in local primary and secondary schools regarding the introduction of classical subjects. The results were very positive, with several schools expressing interest in accessing training and mentoring support for their own staff.

Spurred on by this enthusiasm, we decided to move away from the model of student-led Classics classes and clubs (which is used with great success and impact in other hubs) and to focus instead on training non-specialist teachers in schools to lead the introduction of Classics. This shift was driven by our vision that the Bristol hub would play a role in empowering the teachers as well as the young people within each school.
Building strong relationships with individual teachers and departments has therefore been central to the work of the hub this year. By visiting partner schools at regular intervals and responding promptly to teachers’ questions, we have tried to support schools in a more personalised manner. In doing so, it’s become clear that there is no blueprint for the way in which Classics can be introduced into schools; different approaches will work best in different contexts. Therefore, we aim to remain flexible and responsive to the curricular needs or restraints of individual schools at all times.
In practical terms, the hub consists of a 0.3 FTE project co-ordinator who is responsible for liaising with schools, managing day-to-day hub activity and facilitating training. The co-ordinator is supported by Dr Genevieve Liveley and Dr William Guast in the Department of Classics and Ancient History. 

In the space of 10 months, the Bristol Classics Hub has quickly established itself as an important part of the Classics educational community in the South West.  We have:
    • Built up strong relationships with local schools and worked closely with 11 secondary schools and eight primary schools, many in areas of high deprivation;
    • Trained over 60 non-specialist primary and secondary teachers to teach Latin, Greek and Classical  Civilisation on a sustainable basis;
    •  Organised a GCSE and A Level Classical Civilisation conference which attracted over 80 students  from schools across the region;
    • Provided a range of enrichment events and school workshops for pupils aged 5-18.
In the new 2017-18 academic year, over 1,500 students in 14 schools will either have the opportunity to study a classical subject for the first time or to study a greater range of classical subjects.
We have been delighted (and at times overwhelmed!) by the level of demand for Classics within the local state sector. Yet there is no question that the success of the hub over the past year is a testament to the ambition and enthusiasm of committed teachers across the region who have had the courage to embrace Classics and make it work in their own individual contexts in innovative, exciting and powerful new ways.
As the Bristol Classics Hub enters into its second year, we hope to build on this enthusiasm and provide regular opportunities for teachers (in both state and independent sectors) and academics to learn from each other and share good practice through the introduction of Classics ‘Teach Meet’ events and the development of a peer-to-peer mentoring network. We also hope to widen the geographical scope of the hub this year to ensure that as many teachers as possible from across the South West can participate in the network.
In 2017-18, our expanded programme of events will include opportunities for students to demonstrate their Classics learning in fun and creative ways. For example, KS2 & KS3 students will be able to participate in the Latin play competition, run in collaboration with the local branch of the CA in Bristol, and Year 7 students from seven local schools will be involved in our new Ovid in the West Country competition.

Following on from the success of our first Classical Civilisation conference for GCSE and A Level students in March 2017, this event will be held again in March 2018 with increased capacity so that more students can attend. In preparation, we will be formalising our training programme for the University of Bristol student volunteers who will be running plenary and break-out sessions for school students during the course of the conference. University academics will deliver lectures at this event and will also provide a series of six talks over the course of the Autumn term to Year 12 and 13 students who are participating in new Classics and Ancient History stream within the University’s Access to Bristol scheme.

The hub is delighted to have received a further three years’ funding and support from Classics for All, IGRCT and the University of Bristol. In the coming years, we hope to develop our existing relationships with schools in Bristol, Bath, Gloucestershire and North Somerset and to build up the infrastructure for Classics in more rural parts of the South West. By creating an environment where schools can draw on local expertise and help one another to embed Classics in the curriculum, we aim to foster the growth of Classics teaching and ensure that classical subjects can put down permanent roots in the curriculum plans of the region’s schools.

For more details about the Bristol Classics Hub, our aims, and how to get involved, as well as blog posts with more detailed reports from many of our events, please visit our website.  A more extensive article about the work of the hub will be published in the Journal of Classics Teaching, Issue 36 (Autumn 2017).

Hannah Walsh co-ordinates the Bristol Classics Hub and Classics for All’s Electra Programme which supports schools to introduce or develop the teaching of Ancient Greek language and culture. She has taught English and Classics in both state and private schools in the South West and is currently studying part-time for a Master’s degree in Education Policy and International Development. You can contact her at: