Arbroath is not a town I know well, and the narrow residential street on which I find myself, lined on either side with handsome sandstone villas and tiny, well-kept front gardens, seems an unlikely location for an innovative and class-conscious attempt to challenge Scotland’s educational status quo.

But then I see a sign on the side gate of the penultimate house on the left, a stylised fist grasping a lightning bolt, and know that all is well: I’ve found the home of the Working Classicists.

I’m welcomed by George Connor, 46, and Miri Teixeira, 27, and their beautiful Spanish rescue dog, Posca, having been invited to learn about their project supporting the study of Classics in Scottish state schools.

“People know classic rock,” says George, a high school teacher. “They know classical music. They know classic cars. But Classics? Often nothing.”

“In essence, though, it's Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, plus the languages of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.”

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) allows students to engage in Classical Studies, but uptake for the subject is extremely low. This year, fewer than 500 young people in all of Scotland attempted the Higher, and the numbers for National 5 and Advanced Higher were even lower at just 245 and 35 respectively. In contrast, more than ten thousand students were entered for Higher History.

A disproportionately large number of Classical Studies students are from private schools. At Higher level around a third of those being taught the subject are in fee-paying institutions.

Indeed, neither one of this couple that is now so motivated by Classics got to study it at school.

“My parents always took me to loads of history stuff - that was kind of their thing,” Miri, a journalist and writer, tells me. “I read Robert Harris books and I played Total War. So I had an understanding of it but I wasn't kind of immersed in it. But when we met I was really into military history and that sort of thing and George is into Classics so it was kind of like, well, it's sort of something in common.

“I’m still learning and I’ve not got any qualifications. I did a bit of Latin voluntarily as an after-school club at school because I thought it might help me be a doctor ... and we can see where that ended up.

“So yeah, my journey's a bit scattered but now I just feel like I'm totally immersed in it.”

The Herald: George Connor and Miri Teixeira challenging Scottish education's status quo. Photo Gordon Terris.George Connor and Miri Teixeira challenging Scottish education's status quo. Photo Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

George’s interest is longer-standing, having been sparked by a small volume of Greek myths written by Robert Graves, the author of I, Claudius.

“I was about eight when I read that and the myths stuck with me. These stories really get into your imagination so I knew about Theseus and the Minotaur and Perseus and Medusa and all that stuff. And then I didn't get it at school and I went to university where I did English and history - and I never really thought about it again.”

Ultimately George became an English teacher, only being drawn back to Classics by a unique combination of circumstances.

“When I was in the highlands I was teaching a pupil who, essentially, was a prodigy. She ended up doing 15 Highers by S4, all of them at A-grade. An unbelievable child. My head teacher came to me and said essentially we were running out of subjects to give to this pupil - would I take her through classical studies? So I did and in the process of doing that it kind of reminded me of all those childhood memories and I thought, actually, this is something I want to do. So I went back and I did Higher Classical Studies, Higher Latin and I just kept going. I did an undergrad with the Open University, and I built a Classics department in my current school.”

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For most people, establishing a whole new school department would seem like a big enough achievement, but together an even more ambitious idea began to take shape. George laughs as he tells me that his plans had been for “something very low key” and that Miri had really driven the determination to be much more “bold” in their plans.

The result is Working Classicists, which they describe as a ‘hub of information, support, resources and discussion designed to support the working-class in Classics.’

Inevitably, some will question the value of studying a subject built upon long-dead philosophers speaking in long-dead languages. What, really, is the point in Classical Studies these days?

The Herald: George Connor and Miri Teixeira at home in Arbroath. Photo Gordon Terris.George Connor and Miri Teixeira at home in Arbroath. Photo Gordon Terris. (Image: Newsquest)

For Miri, though, Classics offers the same intrinsic and personal values as any other subject.

“When you are learning Classics you're learning about mysteries. You're learning about empathy. There are kids who might be questioning their identity who finds some Sappho or something. There might be kids who just really love Romans and swords and that stuff and then they actually read about it and they realise there's actually a lot of mystery about what they wore and how they behaved.

“It has the capacity to be all-encompassing the way something like music is for kids. It’s not just about ‘how can I play these notes?’ You’re learning to hear music in everything. You’re learning to create something.”

Even if we weren’t sitting in front of bookshelves filled with a fantastic breadth of Classics literature and analysis, their enthusiasm for the subject would still, I’m sure, shine through. Kids, they insist, deserve the chance to try it Classics and find out how they feel about it – just as they do for sciences, modern languages, other humanities and more.

Nonetheless, establishing himself as a Classical Studies teacher was a major challenge for George, who seems motivated by a desire to ensure that other people have the support that he couldn’t find at the time.

“When I started doing Classics,” George explains, “I felt so isolated. You need a community of teachers around when you’re doing that but I think when you’re a pupil you need a community of pupils.

“So on the one hand we're trying to raise awareness of what Classics is - but on the other hand we're trying to create a network and a community.”

“It’s like a ‘go to’ space isn’t it?” Miri explains, before pointing out that some universities have even started directing students to their work. “When you go to the website it's like: 'Here's a load of information about this guy', 'here's a load of beginner’s information about coins.' It's not the prettiest website you've ever seen because we just put it together ourselves, but there's just so much free content on there. And we've got more plans as well.”

Those plans include the prospect of establishing a scholarship, allowing them to complement the academic support they already provide with some financial aid for young people eager to pursue further study in Classics. Working in the community is also on their radar - George is already “knocking around ideas with the local libraries” about establishing evening classes in Latin for the general public, but Miri adds that an absolute priority would be for such sessions to be free of charge.

To date, they have provided resources and materials to more than a dozen schools looking to start Classical Studies.

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Miri tells me that “whole departments in schools are now running in their second and third year” thanks, at least in part, to the support they provided.

“Those teachers that we have helped to get started,” adds George, “we know that kids they’ve taught have gone on to do Classics at university.

That expansion in state school uptake of Classical Studies is a key motivator for Working Classicists who, as the name suggests, recognise the socio-economic and cultural barriers that need to be overcome.

“You certainly could argue that teaching working class kids this stuff is enormously revolutionary,” says George. “It's absolutely subverting deference and that kind of class attitude that goes with Classics - we're trying to undermine that.”

“I love the classics and I would love more school pupils to have access to it - but at the same time another fire that is powering this is just the sense of injustice that whether you have the good fortune to be born into a certain economic bracket, or into a certain postcode, will dictate whether you have access to this.”

Ultimately, however, there is an obvious barrier - no matter how much time, or how much of their own money, they put into Working Classicists, a teacher and a journalist working from home in their spare time can’t transform a whole nation’s education system. Some of the problems they are trying to solve really need to be tackled at a national level.

So what, I ask, could the decision and policy makers do to help develop Classical Studies in Scottish schools?

“Teaching teachers,” says Miri immediately. “That’s at least one of the big ones.”

George agrees, and argues that the establishment of a proper Initial Teacher Education, or ‘teacher training’, course would be “amazing”, although he concedes that such a shift is “unlikely to happen quickly.”

“I think it’s a matter of staffing in schools because schools can take a history teacher or an English teacher and say 'take a run at classical studies' but they can only do that if they've got capacity in their timetable. Which nobody does.

“If there were more staff in schools it would give headteachers more flexibility. As staffing has become tighter and tighter it means teachers have been put more and more to their full timetable.

“A lot of this just comes down to funding.”