The teaching of Ancient History in schools is to become, well, ancient history. The only examination board offering an A level in the subject is to drop it in favour of a new Classical Civilisation qualification.
Boris Johnson, the Tory higher education spokesman and president of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT), criticised the OCR exam board for its “demented” decision to replace “a tough, rewarding, crunchy” subject with a softer option. “You can’t just subsume the study of Ancient History into the study of Classical Civilisation. You might as well say that you can learn English history through the study of English language and literature. If we lose Ancient History A level, we lose yet another battle in the general dumbing-down of Britain,” he said.
David Tristram, head of The Kingswood School in Corby, Northamptonshire and chair of the JACT council, described the move as “disgraceful”.
“Cicero once said that not to know what took place before you were born is to remain forever a child. The cradle of democracy was Greece, and Western civilisation developed out of the Roman and Greek civilisations — their study is crucial to our own culture and civilisation,” he said.
Graham Able, head of Dulwich College, said that the move reinforced his own decision to opt out of the entire A-level system in favour of the new PreU examination. “Ancient History is a bona fide academic subject in its own right whereas Classical Civilisation tends to be a watered-down version with less historical rigour.”
The Ancient History syllabus covers 21 different aspects and eras of ancient Greek and Roman history, such as the conflict of Greece and Persia in 499BC to 479BC and the reign of Nero. Under the Classical Civilisation A level, history will be dealt with in units, such as “Romano-British society and history as depicted in the literary and archaeological record”.
The move by the OCR exam board follows a revival of interest in ancient history, the result of movie blockbusters such as 300,about the battle of Thermo-pylae , as well as books and TV programmes including the BBC’s Rome.Peter Jones, of the National Coordinating Committee for Classics, said that it made no sense to axe the subject when numbers studying it at AS and A2 level since 2000 had risen by 300 per cent.
Tony Little, Head Master of Eton College, cautioned against a more general trend to “whittle away” valuable periods from the study of history in secondary school: “The notion that history has to be mid-20th century and exclusively focused on the Nazis seems to undervalue history as a subject.”
An OCR spokesman denied watering down the subject. “Similar content to that in Ancient History is covered. In addition, there is a new ethos, which requires candidates to study sources in their historical and cultural context,” he said. New specifications for Classics are published as part of broader changes to A levels, designed to make them more testing for the brightest teenagers from next year.
Hot on the heels of that came a piece in the Telegraph making extraordinary claims about teaching Greek and Latin:
Lessons in Latin and Ancient Greek have been deemed detrimental to the learning of foreign languages in schools.
A secret document sent to Government officials by the Dearing Languages Review, an influential inquiry into language teaching, reveals that Latin and Greek were excluded from the list of languages that schools will be encouraged to study because they are "dead languages" that contribute nothing to "intercultural understanding".
The document adds that "important as they can be, their inclusion on the same footing as modern languages could actually undermine our attempts to build up national capacity in languages".
The revelation that Latin and Greek were intentionally excluded by the review comes only days after news that the Ancient History A-level is to be scrapped by the OCR exam board. The review was ordered by the Government last year in response to a steep decline in the number of pupils studying languages for GCSE.
Boris Johnson, the shadow higher education minister, described the assertion that Latin and Greek could undermine attempts to build up languages as the "most stupid thing I have ever heard".
"I can pick up a newspaper in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Brazil and the whole of Latin America and understand the news, basically because I studied Latin," he said.
... looks like there's a campaign afoot ...
Gene O'Grady notes:
Small point perhaps, but the rather extraordinary claim that Latin and Greek add nothing to intercultural understanding runs clearly contrary to my experiences in California where I observed that Hispanic and Filipino Catholics embraced the Latin (as opposed to Tridentine) Mass as a statement of cultural independence, and certainly my ability to share it with them added at least a little on a couple of memorable occasions to “intercultural understanding.”