East London Classics Summer School succeeds in Hackney

Published:
16:00 December 30, 2021



Two East London teachers are on a mission to make it easier for students from all walks of life to learn Latin.

Teachers Sarah Merali-Smith and Alicia Nomgbri have set up a summer school in east London, Hackney, which offers a London-based intensive revision course for students preparing for their GCSE in Latin.

They describe themselves as not “from the traditional roots that one would expect to be classicists”.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Sarah said she did not have the opportunity to study Greek or Latin, but she was attracted to taking classical A-level civilization.

“I took the subject against my parents’ wishes,” she said.

“I come from a very traditional Indian household, which is quite strict, and my parents would never have supported such a route. It has always been very difficult. ”


The school offers a London-based intensive revision course for students preparing for their GCSE in Latin

The school offers a London-based intensive revision course for students preparing for their GCSE in Latin
– Credit: Smith and Newton Architects, www.smith-newton.com

She continued to study classics at university, completed a master’s degree and has now taught at private schools for 16 years.

“It has been a very interesting experience for me to be of ethnic minority.

“I have always gone to a class where I am the only one different, someone who is a little different than everyone else, and the classic environment can be very closed and unwelcome.

“But because my credentials and qualifications have always been very good, I have almost used it as a mask.”


Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Mary Beard has supported the summer school's mission

Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Mary Beard has supported the summer school’s mission and joined students at Zoom to congratulate them on completing the course
– Credit: Smith and Newton Architects, www.smith-newton.com

Alicia, whose parents are half Chinese and half Indian, went to a state school when she was growing up and also went down the classic route of civilization.

Sarah said: “She’s had a very similar experience, and it’s only within the last year or so that the two of us have actually talked about it with each other – because we’ve both independently experienced the same thing.”

The couple launched their summer school and an Easter revision day earlier this year in 2021.

It coincided with former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s promise to tackle Latin’s “reputation as an elitist subject”.

He announced a new scheme, called the Latin Excellence Program, in August 2021 to increase the prevalence among disadvantaged students.

By 2020, The British Council found that the language was taught in less than 3 percent of public schools compared to nearly half of the independent schools.


The first summer school was attended by 17 students

The first summer school was attended by 17 students
– Credit: Smith and Newton Architects, www.smith-newton.com

“The world of classics has come under a lot of scrutiny and challenges because Latin and Greek are considered topics that are only really capable of being accessed by the privileged,” Sarah added.

“A very exclusive community of predominantly white people, and we’ll just try to put something together that would basically break all those boundaries.”

The teachers’ summer school is based in Homerton.


Classics like Latin are very academic and require great discipline and focus to study

Classics like Latin are very academic and require great discipline and focus to study
– Credit: Smith and Newton Architects, www.smith-newton.com

Sarah stated: “We want to make sure that different types of people can access a course like this because there are not these options.

“There are a few summer schools out there, but those are not the kind of courses that these students would be able to access.”

The first East London Classics Summer School had 17 students. It included core language lessons and lectures on tombstone inscriptions, ancient Greek mythology, poetry and more.


A noun in Latin can have over 32 different variations

A noun in Latin can have over 32 different variations
– Credit: Smith and Newton Architects, www.smith-newton.com

While summer school is more accessible to students in east London, it still costs £ 200 per person. student.

Sarah and Alicia are therefore trying to raise more funds and hope to be able to offer full and half scholarships to students in 2022.

Sarah encourages students to take an interest in classical languages ​​as an “opening to a world we do not have access to”.

She said, “When that door opens, we are allowed to see the history of antiquity, we are allowed to look at classical archeology and read Plato and Aristotle.”

“It allows us to stop and reflect and consider bigger issues about things like empire, misogyny, gender and race – and the very basis of these big problems, which we can only really look at when we can read the language.

She continued, “And once you dive into a topic with the extra toolkit, it just opens up a whole new world of understanding.”

To find out more about East London Classics Summer School visit twitter.com/ELCSS2

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