The Iris Project - Iris Project History

Iris Project History

The Iris Project is an educational charity which was started in 2006 by Dr Lorna Robinson in order to bring ancient languages and culture to inner city state schools and communities. The project began by offering a magazine, Iris, free for state schools and weekend/lunchtime classes, and soon expanded across London and Oxford to many state schools as a part of the literacy curriculum. Below is a brief outline of the key dates in the history of the charity.

Iris magazine

In September 2006, the first issue of Iris magazine was published, a new Classics magazine which aimed to present Classical topics in a fun, accessible, light-hearted, modern and unusual way. The first issue featured articles such as the academic Dylan Evan's quest to re-establish Plato's Academy, a mock report on the ancient Olympian messenger system, a look at the prevalence of melting women in Ovid, amongst others. Later issues have included an article by Sarah Annes Brown on modern re-interpretations of the Classics, a piece on the more gruesome elements of ancient medicine by Professor Helen King and interviews with prominent Classicists.

As well as serious articles by enthusiasts and academics on Classical topics, the magazine set out to have a quirky and gently irreverent approach to the ancient world, and therefore included a fashion page, quizzes, a myth debunk page, advice from ancient deities and even a soap-opera inspired by the BBC's Life on Mars series.

All of these things were intended to make the subjects fun and accessible to school students and adults who may not have had any access to the subjects before.

The sixteenth edition of Iris was the final termly edition. The magazine is now produced annually. All back issues can be ordered through the website.

The London Literacy through Latin Project

In September 2006, Lorna started piloting Latin on the KS2 literacy curriculum to large mixed-ability classes in inner city schools. She used a course which she developed specifically for this pilot scheme, that delivered Latin using activities and the myths of Ovid. The lesson plans were designed to support and enhance the national curriculum literacy strategies, and to provide an exciting, original and accessible introduction to Latin. Activities were varied and lively, examples including the use of jigsaw pieces to teach inflection, making spider webs to display how Latin and English words were connected, making road signs to teach imperatives, and inventing ancient menus to introduce vocabulary and aspects of ancient culture. The course also encouraged children to explore ancient myths in a variety of ways, from drama and story tellings to artistic reinterpretations.

The pilot proved to be very popular, and as a result, from September 2007, twenty state primary and secondary schools started classes in Latin using the same course. From September 2008, state primary and secondary schools became involved in a range of inner London boroughs including Lambeth, Southwark, Brent, Tower Hamlets, Islington, Camden and Newham, as well as the schools continuing in Hackney. At this time The Iris Project began to run the scheme in conjunction with University College London and King's College London, and arranged for the students to received training from the King's College London Classics PGCE Department as part of the project.

The participating schools express the importance of the role of Latin in helping support and enhance literacy skills, and the project continues to run across all London boroughs, and from September 2012 will include the possibility of school pupils attaining OCR Entry Level Latin qualification as part of the year long programme.

The Oxford Literacy through Latin Project

The Oxford Latin project was piloted in 2007/8 with a handful of primary schools in Oxford city, focusing particularly on schools in the east of the city, including some of the more deprived estates including Barton and Blackbird Leys. The project continues to this day, and is now run in association with the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford. Pupils receive year long Latin courses as part of the literacy curriculum, following the same course as outlined above in the London Latin Project.

The Hackney Schools Greek Drama Project

In 2008, playwright Graham Kirby joined The Iris Project as the co-originator of a new pilot project funded by University College London and run with the help of student volunteers. The project started running in two schools in the London Borough of Hackney with a series of workshops that introduced Greek mythologies and history to Year 6 and Year 7 pupils.

The culmination of the project was on 7 July 2008 with a free performance at the Bloomsbury Theatre of Aristophanes' Frogs and Peace, translated and adapted by Graham Kirby. The project was viewed as a success by academics and seen as an important contribution to widening access to Classics. Professor Chris Carey commented: "These plays are an ideal vehicle because they are enormous fun and can be appreciated by a wide audience. The children did a very good job; I was impressed that they were never intimidated by the scale of the theatre. They put a lot of work into learning their lines and getting into character.".

Latin in the Parks

In summer 2008, Dr Lorna Robinson set up a new project for adults who had never had the opportunity to study Latin. Running twice-weekly in Oxford with occasional sessions in London, the project runs throughout June and July. The sessions are held in local parks, and have met with enthusiastic success. They involve a mixture of an introduction to Latin through translating adapted versions of the myths of Greece and Rome, and informal talks on various aspects of the ancient world, such as Roman religion, roles of women, a history of the Roman republic, exploring the representation of various mythical figures in ancient literature and art, amongst many other topics.

In 2012, Dr Evelien Bracke set up Latin in the park in Swansea.

Early Day Motion

In July 2008 an Early Day Motion was tabled by Tom Brake MP who praised the Iris Project:

"That this House welcomes the initiative of the Iris Project, Latin in the Park, as an excellent opportunity for people from all backgrounds to learn Latin and about ancient culture free of charge in a friendly and relaxed setting; recognises that the project enables adults and families to explore various aspects of ancient culture, such as women in the ancient world, religion, the history of the Roman Republic and other subjects; further recognises that Latin may be viewed as an elite area of study discouraging wider participation; and draws attention to the fact that this initiative promotes access to the classics amongst all and any local communities."

EDM 2016 was signed by 31 other MPs.

The Iris Festival of Greek Drama

In June 2009 the Iris Project launched a new Classics festival, run by Graham Kirby, at The Scoop in central London. The Iris Festival of Greek Drama took place on 17 - 19 June 2009 with a double bill of Greek comedy performed by inner London state schools, an afternoon of activities and workshops, and an evening performance of Euripides' The Bacchae, translated by Graham Kirby.

Over three days two hundred and fifty children took part in the afternoon performances from four different schools, performing adapations of two abridged Greek plays, Birds and Clouds.

The festival was officially opened by London mayor Boris Johnson and was free to members of the public.

The Oxford Greek Project

A new project was launched in Autumn 2010 by Dr Lorna Robinson, which involves teaching ancient Greek in east Oxford primary schools during the academic year to see if this will enhance and enrich the children’s learning of English and other connected subjects in year six. The Iris Project believes that learning ancient Greek as part of the English KS2 curriculum provides a fascinating basis for grasping the complexities of English grammar; and that it also provides a fascinating framework within which to locate English learning, introducing them to an hugely influential culture and explaining how this culture and its language has shaped English and English cultural norms.

The lessons, which are freely available on The Iris Project website for schools to use, connect with other aspects of the school curriculum, from history and geography, through to science and maths, and also drama, art and sport. The curriculum includes introductions to ancient Greek philosophy, theatre, democracy, sport and more. Sessions have also included an artefact session, where pupils have had the opportunity to handle copies of ancient Greek objects and to explore what information they give about ancient Greek society. The project has met with great success, and is expanding into further schools in 2011/12.

Iota magazine

Iota is a new Classics magazine produced by The Iris Project for younger children. It aims to introduce Classics and Latin in a fun, informative and engaging way, and its content is designed and written to fit in with the key stage two material on the ancient Greeks and Romans. There are three editions published per year - one for each school term - and every issue is themed around a different Classical myth. Through five exciting sections, children can learn about the way Romans and Greeks lived, as well as being introduced to the Latin language through activities and games.

Iris Online

Iris Online was created by Duncan Martin and launched in October 2011 to bring Iris magazine's content online as well as featuring more immediate news, polls and reviews. The early site featured articles about philosophy, slavery and Lucian as well as interviews with Bettany Hughes, Joan Smith and Martha Kearney.

The Mayor of London's Love Latin Scheme

A new scheme Love Latin is a Mayoral initiative run by The Iris Project which brings Latin and Classics to state schools across London through a team of volunteers. Through a mixture of weekly Latin classes in primary schools and one-off workshops in primary or secondary schools, the scheme aims to unlock the mysteries of Latin and Classics for school children across the city. The Latin classes in primary schools expands on an existing successful scheme run by The Iris Project, 'Literacy through Latin'.

The one-off workshops in secondary schools is a programme which involves sending volunteers from all walks of life who have a classical background to give sessions in local schools on Classical topics which they are passionate about bringing to a new, young audience.

This scheme is part of the Team London initiative. It launched in November 2011 with a wave of talks in local state schools. An enthusiastic team of volunteers from London and elsewhere set about delivering workshops and talks on a wide range of topics: school pupils have had the opportunity to learn about gladiators, Olympics, Julius Caesar , how ancient democracy connects to our democracy today,how Latin words connect to English ones, amongst many more talks. The talks have all been aimed at bringing out the profound connections between the ancient and modern world, and feedback from staff and pupils has been outstanding.

Julie Birchall from Dormer Wells High school in Southall commented: "All excellent... all the pupils expressed enjoyment and interest", while a pupil said "it was awesome! I loved it". Another pupil from Furzedown primary school said "very fun, I would love to have more talks like this!". A member of staff from Norbury College said "our volunteer speaker was an inspiration".

Some of the talks are being filmed and all resources used can be found on the website.

Swansea Literacy through Latin Project

An expansion of the Iris Literacy through Latin project to help improve Welsh primary school pupils' literacy through the teaching of Latin for the first time was launched at Swansea University on Thursday, January 26 2012.

The initiative is a collaboration between the University's Department of History and Classics and The Iris Project, which already successfully runs similar projects in a number of English primary schools.

Latin students from Swansea University's Department of History and Classics, as volunteers, teach Latin to year five and six pupils of Brynmill Primary School in Swansea for one hour a week in the Spring and Summer terms of 2012.

Dr Evelien Bracke, the Project Coordinator at Swansea University, said:"Latin will be approached in a fun and engaging way, through storytelling, games, and interaction, and with specific reference to linguistic skills in English. "In the next school year, the project will be opened up to other local schools in the South West Wales area."

As part of celebrations for the project's launch on Thursday, January 26, pupils from Brynmill Primary School will visit the University to take part in fun Roman-related activities, such as mosaic-making and commanding a Roman army.

Further Expansion of the Literacy through Latin scheme

In October 2012, the Literacy through Latin project was expanded to Reading, Manchester and St Andrews, with all places using the template of the project to set up local versions. Iris Project staff provide guidance and mentoring for the student teachers and university staff liaison officers. In October 2013, the project will expand to Glasgow. In 2012-3, there has been a pilot of a course book written and illustrated by Iris Project members, Telling Tales in Latin in Pegasus primary school in Oxford and St Saviours primary school in London which culminates in the pupils sitting the new OCR Entry Level Latin qualification. In October 2013, it is planned for other interested schools to use the project towards an examination.

East Oxford Community Classics Centre

The East Oxford Community Classics Centre, hosted at Cheney School, will be a vibrant new Classics learning venue for people of all ages to attend events, workshops, lessons, and exhibitions! The Centre will be opened in October 2013, and a schedule of events will be available in the summer. The Centre is founded and will be run by The Iris Project. It will be run in partnership with the University of Oxford.

The purpose of the Centre is both to provide a permanent presence within the school whereby pupils can engage with the Classics in a range of different ways, and also to provide an accessible place for visitors of all ages from the local community to experience Classics and attend lessons and sessions. Most activities will be provided with no charge; some adult lessons may charge a very small fee to cover basic costs.

The Iris Project
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