A Modern Day Tragedy: AQA plans to scrap A Level Classical Civilisation.

The news that AQA are planning to scrap A Level Classical Civilisation is devastating, following on from pulling History of Art and Archaeology A Levels allegedly due to the courses being ‘too specialised’. Humanities subjects are facing yet another blow as a result of the narrowing of the English Education system.

I was surprised to learn that Computing, Economics and Business are being pulled from AQA’s exam board too. Although mathematics and technology were never subjects I wanted to pursue further, I am equally dismayed by the axing of these subjects for those students who will miss out on the opportunity of studying these courses.  

In response to the news of AQA dropping Classical Civilisation I made the comment that had I wanted to study the same curriculum I’d studied at school I’d have chosen the IB, that feels childish to say, but that’s honestly how I feel in regards to AQA’s changes. Prior to Sixth Form I had always loved studying history, and on choosing my A Levels I knew I was going to take a history A Level. However my Sixth Form also offered Classical Civilisation, a course I had never come across before, alongside Modern History it seemed like a great combination and it was.

During the first term of AS Classical Civilisation the teacher told my class that we would all fail the first practice essay, not the most confidence inspiring claim, and may leave you thinking that AQA are right to pull the A Level…

I can remember thinking ‘how can you say that? You’re completely wrong, I’ll show you!’

I got an E.

Believe it or not but it was this challenging aspect of the course, essays which required 200 years of history to be condensed and major themes such as class structures,  the evolution of Athenian democracy and social reforms to be discussed in precise detail. This sparked a motivation within me that I had never experienced before, I wanted to master this course. Studying Classical Civilisation at A Level was one of the most valuable experiences I had in full time education, and led me to study Classical Studies at university.

A Level Classical Civilisation allowed to study a completely different area of history and in a way I hadn’t studied history before, the course demands a careful and critical analysis of the sources, and you aren’t able to make as many inferences or deductions as you are with standard history.

I mentioned before that I also took A Level Modern History and now I wonder what my A Level experience would have been like if I had just taken Modern History. At AS Level we studied the politics of Germany in the 1900s, I was already quite familiar with the rise of Nazism, and though the course approached it in a more sophisticated way than I had studied it previously. Looking back now had I just done Modern History, I’d have been studying an area of history I was already overly familiar with and I don’t feel like I gained as much from studying Modern History as I did from studying Class Civ. At A2 I studied the Cold War, thankfully my tutor taught us this area of history from a ‘Russian sympathetic’ view, because it would be ‘too easy / obvious’ to teach from a Western perspective. I fear that in the wake of Classical Civilisation being scrapped that if Modern History is taught by a less open-minded tutor, it could be damaging for future history students.  That being said the AS Modern History module which looked at English politics, particularly Home Rule and the Boer War is commendable in making history students more aware of England’s darker history.

AQA claims that it is scrapping the History of Art, Archaeology and Classical Civilisation A Levels because they are too ‘specialised’, allegedly because there are not enough teachers able to teach these courses. Though this may be true, pulling these courses does not solve that problem, and in facts makes it worse on two fronts. First by removing the opportunity for students to choose these courses, and second by denying teachers (or in fact students of these courses who may want to go and teach these courses at A Level, as I would have liked to), the chance to teach these courses. The ability to study these ‘specialised’ courses at Sixth Form, whether or not they inspire students to pursue them further and become trained in these fields, gives students exposure to subjects outside of the national curriculum and the ability to try something different. These courses provide students with skills that wouldn’t be readily available from the core subjects included at IB or other A Levels.

It may also lead to students limiting themselves to studying subjects such as History, Politics or English Literature at university, because they haven’t studied subjects such as Classical Civilisation, Archaeology or History of Art, and don’t think they could qualify for it. An A Level Classical Civilisation is not essential to studying Ancient History or Classical Studies at university, however if I hadn’t taken it, I would have taken History at university, not Classical Studies because I’d never studied it before.

Removing A Level Classical Civilisation will also stop public Sixth Forms and colleges from being able to provide students the opportunity to a pathway to studying Classics, leading to Classics’ being viewed as an ‘elitist’ subject once more. If Theresa May’s plan to reinstate Grammar Schools succeeds, then Classics will only be available to those who study at Private schools and Grammar schools.

I understand that subjects like Classical Civilisation, Archaeology and History of Art may not be deemed as ‘essential’ subjects, but is limiting future students’ opportunity to study these courses really the answer? Should we ever seek to limit someone’s education? Do we want to live in a world where the government dictates which subjects are important enough to be studied, whilst others fall by the way side?

Education is one of the most important parts of our lives, and to have it restricted to core subjects, makes the prospect for students in England bleaker, harder and more stressful than ever before. My biggest fear for the scrapping of these subjects alongside many others is that the limitations hinders students’ ability to be individuals, to make choices according to their interests and abilities. It breaks my heart to think of students whose experience of education will be changed forever by the struggle caused as a result of these courses being scrapped will have. I honestly hope there is an end to this madness.

Full list of A Levels being scrapped by AQA:

Petitions to save the A Levels AQA are planning to scrap:
Art History –

Archaeology –

Classical Civilisation –

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