So long GCSE Classical Civilisation, and thanks for all the guilt

Why couldn’t I have died and yielded my soul to the sword of Diomede, bravest of the Greeks, on the Trojan plains? – Aeneas in The Aeneid by Virgil, Book One


This weekend I have been marking my very last batch of GCSE Classical Civilisation Controlled Assessments (our school dropped the course from the curriculum last year), and again I’ve been feeling like Aeneas, torn between duty and my own desires. On the one hand, there are very clear regulations one must follow when pupils are planning and writing their Controlled Assessments. On the other hand, I want to make sure I have done everything in my power to ensure the pupils have the best possible CA grade going into their exams.

The ‘guilt’ in the blogpost title is twofold. Firstly it refers to straddling this line, which effectively means cheating. How, for example, do I appropriately mark the work of a pupil with SpLD who, in her written exams, gets the appropriate extra time and a reader, but who in her typed CA essay can’t make the corrections that Word highlights for her because she doesn’t understand why her original writing is wrong? Or the EAL pupil who speaks only Cantonese at home and who doesn’t use the past tense in her written English work, because she has no comprehension of the concept? Both pupils have organised their work very well, used appropriate examples to support their claims, and ‘offered an informed personal response to the question’. Yet, because of the vast array of competing indicators on the mark scheme, both would suffer heavily if I applied it strictly.

I’ve followed all the exam board’s CA rules: separate planning diaries, time limits, no redrafts, no comments from me on any of their planning work. I’m the only teacher teaching this course, with no head of department or anyone else to moderate the work. So what is stopping me asking the pupils to “just look over your work again”? Professional integrity? What is doubly galling is that last year, all the sample CA that the board requested were returned, unwrapped, untouched and with no comments or feedback. This is a GCSE course with a very small cohort of candidates, taught in a small number of schools, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to, shall we say, discourage pupils from doing well. 


I made my way back into the city, clad again in my gleaming armour, to live every encounter again, to retrace all my steps through Troy, to face every danger again. – Aeneas, Book Two


So back to school I go on Tuesday, that little memory stick with 15 essays on locked away in my desk drawer, waiting.

The ‘guilt’ also refers to my never-ending feeling of inadequacy in delivering this subject. I wasn’t trained as a Classicist (in fact I had to ask what it actually involved at my job interview) but I’ve been solely responsible for resourcing, planning, teaching and delivering this GCSE course since I was an NQT. Six years of forgetting the names of the Vias in Pompeii. Six years of embarrassing “why don’t you just read the chapter again” when asked what line of Book Five of The Odyssey has the best example of repetition. Six years of no thanks or recognition from the school in either points, pay or timetabling. But six years of bloody good results, and six years of fantastic, small groups of pupils who thrilled at the deeds of “lion-hearted Odysseus” and giggled at the statue of the dancing faun.

I’ll miss teaching this course, but I won’t miss everything.




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