“Schools and colleges like Henley who determinedly promote classics [...] are to be congratulated."
Earlier this year Professor Dame Mary Beard announced she was giving a ‘retirement present’ of £80,000. She has set up the Joyce Reynolds Award, a scholarship fund that will support two students from low income families and under-represented ethnic groups, enabling them to read classics at Cambridge.
Dame Mary, who is a keen supporter of classics in the State sector, and who has lent her support to The Henley College’s classics A level since 2019, said “I am very conscious of what I've gained from classics; no-one from my family had a university degree… [The scholarships are] a pledge, that we really do want people from more diverse backgrounds to study classics. Classics is a subject that has changed, is changing, but needs to change more.”
The Henley College attracts students from three counties with a huge range of backgrounds. It is proud of its breadth of curriculum and celebrates diversity. Its classics course uses modern, English translations of classic texts and thus requires no knowledge of Latin or ancient Greek. It is often taken alongside ancient history and philosophy, a combination which is vanishingly rare in the State sector and which is sought-after by prestigious universities.
Dame Mary said “schools and colleges like Henley who determinedly promote classics, despite budget cuts and pressure to focus on STEM and vocational subjects, are to be congratulated. Their students have opportunities that I wish more in the State sector could have. It is students like theirs, some of whom work part-time to contribute to the family budget, are in the care system or who come from ethnic minorities, which my scholarships are intended to help. I have no illusion that giving a couple of scholarships is the solution, but it's a way of showing we're serious about equality of opportunity”.
Roxy Ward, who studied classics, ancient history and philosophy at The Henley College and who is now at the University of Reading reading Classical Studies, on hearing of Dame Mary’s scholarships, said “Wow that's great! As someone from a low income household it’s really nice to see others getting a chance to further their education without having to worry about expenses”.
Another former Henley student Connie Hubbard said “my class-mates at Henley weren’t ‘posh’; most of us just liked myths and Horrible Histories. Studying classics and ancient history A level was genuinely life-changing – I did not think I would come out with AAA and, without it, I would not now be reading classics at the University of Reading, where several of us have chosen to go. The Reading Classics department is lovely, with professors very committed to teaching and getting the best out of their students, but going to Reading also makes a degree affordable for me – I can earn enough to cover my bus-fare and books whilst still being able to focus on my studies, but paying thousands of pounds in rent, as I would have had to had I taken up my offers from UCL and Kings College, would have been unaffordable. I am by no means alone in this. I think it’s brilliant that Prof. Mary Beard has shown such generosity and commitment – it makes it clear that classics is for everyone."