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The North – A Lost Cause? Or Untapped Potential? by Tahlia Greenhalgh

When it comes to Public Engagement in Classics, there are a multitude of audiences that can be engaged in many different ways. The NCCPE discusses the ‘public’ and the issues that arise by trying to consider everyone together into one ‘undifferentiated group’, and therefore, in order to engage as many different audiences in Classics, we must first consider what sets each distinct group apart from the last, and how we can use that to best involve them in our world.

Throughout my school life, I have been educated in state schools in the North, with my secondary school being considered disadvantaged. Since starting at the University of Warwick, and finding myself surrounded by students that were privately educated and from schools that, unlike mine, included Classics at a secondary level, I became increasingly aware of the differences between North and South engagement in the Ancient World.

I believe that schools in the North are a key audience for classics, and have untapped potential (as regards future students, educators and academics in the subject) due to being behind generally throughout education, something that is highly linked to the disproportionate levels of depravation in the North of England, compared to the South and London specifically.

North south educational gap graph from BBC

These education gaps can be easily highlighted. See for example the BBC's report ‘Is there a north-south divide in England’s schools?’, which clearly emphasises the link found between deprivation and how well students perform in schools (see Figure 1, right, from BBC News.)

I believe this makes the schools of the North one of our most important audiences for Classics, as they have not been granted the same opportunities that many children who are privately educated have readily available. Furthermore, this is negatively affecting University applications from Northern colleges and sixth forms, as in 2018, England's Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, found, in her report ‘Growing Up North, Look North’, that:

‘a child on free school meals (FSM) living in Hackney, east London, is three times more likely to go to university than a child on FSM from Hartlepool.’

There are a few organisations that are now working to bring Classics to a wider audience, such as Classics for All, who also have a separate branch, Classics for All North, and they have done excellent work introducing Latin Language to Primary Schools around England. At first glance, this seems pointless; for how will disadvantage students who struggle to even pass their English SATs benefit from an ancient language? Classics for All North state that one of the biggest benefits of Latin in Primary, is its ability to not only ready students to learn modern languages in the future, but also aid their understanding of English.

‘Latin also supports English literacy across the curriculum by enhancing grammatical understanding and insight into the origins of words, spelling and the meaning of prefixes and suffixes.’ (Classics for All North)

Understanding the relevancy of introducing Classics to schools everywhere is the first step in encouraging audiences to engage in the Ancient World, and I believe that by moving towards expanding opportunities in the North as well as other disadvantaged areas, education throughout the UK in general could be greatly affected.

Boris Johnson in a togaThis problem unfortunately does not end at schools. There are so many groups that consider themselves excluded from the world of Classics. London Classicists of Colour are just one of many committees and societies than can be found within universities that call for the decolonisation of Classics, and a removal of the idea that because white classicists ‘look the part’, they know more than classicists of colour. (Yung In Chae, 2018).

This only goes further to emphasise the main issue when it comes to engaging audiences in Classics; and that is, there is elitism and discrimination still prevalent in many universities and leading institutions that cannot be aiding the move towards more public engagement in Classics. If many groups of society feel excluded by academia, then how can we expect them to partake in an area like Classics that is often seen as old-fashioned, excuse the jest, due to its prevalence in the speeches of the likes of Boris Johnson. (See Figure 2, left - Boris Johnson in 2007, protesting against the threatened abolition of A-level ancient history).

In order to solve this issue, we need more young people who are passionate about Classics and widening participation to pay attention to this issue and work with universities and charities such as Classics for All to expand involvement throughout England, and close the gaps that exist in the education of Classics.


Further Reading





Figure 1 – Graph from BBC News,

Figure 2 - Boris Johnson in 2007, protesting against the threatened abolition of A-level ancient history,