Classics & Latin


At St. Mary’s College, we are committed to bringing the exciting and dynamic world of the Greeks and Romans alive in our modern world. Alongside our excellent results and large numbers of pupils going on to study Classics at some of the best universities in the country, we also provide an exciting and diverse extra-curricular programme. If you study Classics at St. Mary’s you will have the opportunity to take part in our powerful performances of the great Greek Tragedies or to explore Italy, Greece or even Turkey on the regular trips that we organise.

Classics is the study of the origins of the Western world. Pupils learn about the birth of democracy, the start of modern medicine and modern warfare, and the very early beginnings of the theatre. Pupils learn about the beginning of science and philosophy and through studying the mythology of the ancient world they learn, perhaps most importantly, what it is to be human.

We are passionate about the ancient world and we seek to allow our pupils to explore that world through the original sources, both literary and physical. In studying these sources and evaluating their significance in both the ancient and modern world pupils are developing skills in analysis and contextualisation which will be extremely important in their future careers. It is no surprise that Classicists very often choose Law as their chosen career path!

We develop and nurture our pupils by modelling best practice but also by allowing pupils to develop their own ideas and opinions through intelligent debate and discussion. This leads to confident and exciting GCSE and A Level essay writing showcasing the skills of the pupils.

Pupils are taught with a combination of original sources and lots of paired and group work and discussion. Pupils will often take part in a drama session based on one of the surviving tragedies or may find themselves analysing original sources such as painted vases or passages from the Odyssey right from the beginning of their Classics journey in Lower School.

Classics – Lower School

At Key Stage 3, having already studied Latin in Year 7, pupils are introduced to two of the key strands of Classics; Ancient History and Mythology. They study the rise and fall of the Roman Empire through original sources and the works of two of the greatest Roman writers; Ovid and Virgil. They also study Greek mythology focusing on the myths of Jason and the Argonauts and The Trojan War through a combination of ancient and modern sources and ideas.

Teaching is diverse and exciting; pupils may find themselves taking part in a Greek Tragedy, making a map of the stars, competing with a bow and arrows, planning battle attacks or building wooden horses. Teaching is developed and changed annually to complement the peer group and to develop and nurture their specific interests.

Students enjoy the stories and the characters, but it also asks them to reflect on many important and diverse topics from ‘What causes a great empire to fall?’ to ‘What is more powerful Love of Death?’. It is little surprise that half the school go on to study Classics at GCSE.

Classics – GCSE

At Key Stage 4, we follow the OCR course of study along a specifically Greek route. Topics covered are Athens and Sparta, Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Antigone.

Classics is a popular choice with students for GCSE and in many ways, they get a number of different subjects for their one option as they study culture and society, literature, religion, theatre, history, philosophy and politics. Students learn how to build on skills first practised at Key Stage 3; now they must begin to be more rigorous in assembling and presenting their evidence and views, justifying their citing of sources, making connections in presenting an interpretation of events.

Pupils build on the skills they have started to develop at KS3, looking at sources, exploring ideas and coming up with justified opinions. A personal response is very important in Classics and pupils are encouraged to develop their own ideas and arguments within the context of the questions. The 2,000 word Controlled Assessment is an opportunity for students to develop their essay writing skills which will be hugely important both for A Level and Degree level.

The department not only celebrates exam success annually but also develops the skills necessary for more advanced study. With the annual Greek play and regular foreign trips, pupils find that the classical world that they study is vivid, alive and surprisingly modern.

Classics – A Level

The OCR A Level course consists of Homer’s Odyssey and Greek Tragedy; Virgil and the World of the Hero and Greek Art and Architecture.

Debate and discussion are key to A Level study where pupils are required to develop well-substantiated, informed and personal responses to works of great literature and of the birth of classical art. Pupils study the first books of Western literature and are required to analyse the core meaning of the texts; they study Greek art, which transformed Western art for all time and they study Greek Theatre – a unique and beautiful art form that questions humanity itself.

Pupils in the Sixth Form are encouraged to write for the Oracle, the departmental newsletter about Classical topics not covered by the exam board, enriching their understanding of the ancient world and preparing them for university. Many also take part in the annual Greek Tragedy – playing the roles that they study in the written texts for A Level and bringing their study to life in a creative and enriching way. It is very clear from the outstanding results that performing in or watching tragedies has a profound effect on pupils’ understanding of the art. Pupils also have the opportunity to travel to the places that they study further enriching their understanding; pupils see the works of art that they study at museums and sites in Greece, Italy, Turkey and London!

Pupils learn to question, debate and use evidence to substantiate their points. They learn to weigh up arguments and to respond to problems. As a course of A Level study at St Mary’s, Classics is very popular and pupils consistently score above their predicted grades. We currently have former St. Mary’s pupils studying and even lecturing in Classics at Cambridge, Nottingham, St. Andrews, Kings College, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Reading and Swansea Universities.


Latin is a powerful key to unlocking English vocabulary and trains the mind in analytical thinking and problem-solving.

At St. Mary’s College, all pupils learn Latin in Year 7 before this becomes an optional language alongside French, Spanish or German in Years 8 and 9. Pupils have the opportunity to study Latin at GCSE and A Level.

A beginners Ancient Greek club is offered at Key Stage 3 to those who enjoy the challenge and fascination of a different alphabet, providing pupils with a full range of Classical subjects at the school.

The study of Classical languages provides vast diversity within the curriculum; encompassing the study of literature, ancient history, linguistics, politics, theatre, art and philosophy.

There are many opportunities for students to experience the subject in a broader sense. Places visited include Chester, Bath and Hadrian’s Wall, as well as Rome, Pompeii and various sites in Greece.

Latin – Lower School

We enthuse our pupils using the Cambridge Latin Course, a famous series which follows a family from ancient Pompeii through the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius, adventures in Egypt, Britain, and eventually in the city of Rome itself. 

Alongside their language learning, pupils are challenged to think about a civilisation very different from the one in which they live. 

Latin – GCSE

Pupils build on the language learned in Years 7 to 9 and follow the OCR GCSE specification to begin studying a selection of original literature by authors such as Virgil, Ovid and Tacitus.

The exam is split into language and literature papers, challenging students to hone their literary, linguistic and analytical skills.

By broadening their Latin and English vocabulary and refining their attention to detail, the GCSE course enables students to develop a strong academic foundation from which their skills can be transferred to a variety of disciplines.

Latin – A Level

At A Level we continue reading Latin authors, with the aim of developing students’ appreciation of the texts as masterpieces of world literature.

The literature at Key Stage 5 includes the political and forensic speeches of Cicero, the history surrounding Caesar, Tacitus and Livy as well as poetry from the epic poet Virgil, the personal style of Catullus and the quirky Ovid.