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Meet Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Associate Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History 

Arlene Holmes Henderson







Tell us about your current role

I am Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient History and I teach on the newly launched Latin with Classics teacher training degree (PGCE) in the School of Education. I lead several research projects which investigate the learning and teaching of classical subjects in pre-university settings and currently hold a British Academy Innovation Fellowship on ‘Levelling up through talk: how do oracy skills contribute to social mobility and employability’.

Influencing Policy

In 2018, the direction of my career pivoted when I attended the AHRC’s Engaging with Government course at the Institute for Government. Until that point, I had been a high school teacher, a school leader and a researcher but I left that training course with ambitions to share my research to influence public policy.

Since 2020, I have worked closely with the Department for Education as an expert advisor on languages education. This led to commissioned research reports and a major investment (£4m) in Classics in state schools. I also advise parliament, via two all-party parliamentary groups, and have subsequently seen my recommendations be adopted by key stakeholders in government.

I am Vice-Chair of the Universities Policy Engagement Network, with a national remit to champion policy engagement with Arts and Humanities research, a role to which I am deeply committed both personally and professionally.

Making a difference in society

I have benefited a great deal, since my undergraduate years, from the support of organisations in the Classics community. I now give back by gifting my time and expertise as a board/committee member, helping to disburse funds and invest in the future of the field. I am a Trustee and Outreach Officer of the Classical Association, Chair of the Classics Development Group (a consortium of 14 organisations), a Roman Society committee member and the elected Classics representative on the executive committee of the University Council of Modern Languages.

I am also a Council Member of the US-UK Fulbright Commission and a steering group member of the British Curriculum Forum. I hope that my contributions to these groups bring some pragmatic common sense (for which I credit my Glaswegian upbringing) and experience from roles outside and within academia.

Championing change

I am an optimist and generally embrace change. I firmly believe that we have an opportunity to communicate the value and relevance of our research to new audiences in exciting ways. I champion knowledge exchange, policy engagement and public engagement from the outset of all planned research, and am a serial collaborator.

Two developments I’d love to witness in the next three years are: 1) many more interdisciplinary projects which feature collaboration between Classicists and others, moving away from the model of the lone researcher, and 2) university promotion processes which value engagement or ‘impact’ activities with equal currency to teaching and research.

I’ve recently been elected to the Durham University Research Culture Committee as the representative for Arts and Humanities and am keen to advocate for more support to encourage academics to work collaboratively across disciplinary boundaries, to engage with stakeholders outside the university and for their research to have positive impact in society.