Passing a GCSE two years early is impressive enough. Doing it in one year instead of the usual two is even more of an achievement.
But when it turns out the pupils in question attend a comprehensive located in one of the most deprived areas of the country where gang and gun culture is rife, it becomes little short of remarkable.
That is exactly what a group of 14-year-olds from Holte School in Lozells, Birmingham, have done. The 11 youngsters, all of them from an ethnic minority background, each picked up a C grade in the subject, the highest grade possible at their age.
Holte’s head Pat Walters said their success showed what could be achieved in the toughest of circumstances.
“Usually it is only when it is guns and gangs and how many pupils have been excluded for knives and guns that we are in the paper.
“Yes, we are at the forefront of the gun and gang agenda, but we don’t want to be known for that. This is about achievement and academic study in the inner city.
“It is about trying to prove these children are just as bright as anyone else.”
Deprivation indexes put the school on Wheeler Street in the bottom 100th of the country’s most deprived areas. More than 90 per cent of the school’s 950 pupils are ethnic minorities, the vast majority of Asian origin. The school also includes many youngsters from asylum seeker families.
The proportion on free school meals - another key indicator of deprivation - is 63 per cent, almost double the city average.
Ms Walters said: “Some of the kids who come from areas like Somalia or the Congo have seen things that no adult should have to deal with. They have had very traumatic lives.
“We want to inspire them to achieve the highest level. We want to create a culture of achievement. We have children who are bullied into being in a gang because it is too dangerous for them not to be.
“We want them to realise education is the answer.”
The pupils were helped in their studies by dons from Oxford University, as part of a drive to widen the appeal of the classics beyond the normal confines of top public schools.
Ms Walters believes the subject could help pupils from the inner city reach the highest levels of British society.
“We are looking at Oxbridge for our children. We want to lead 11 to 18 education in Lozells because we have the trust of the community to deliver.”
The accelerated GCSE - which involves studying Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid and the younger Pliny’s letters on Roman society - aimed to widen the horizons of youngsters living in the inner city and increase their depth of understanding of Western society.
Pupils were taken on a field trip to the Roman city of Bath as part of the course, which was studied before and after school.
Jennifer James, head of history at Holte, said: “In the early stages I wasn’t sure if they could through the whole course but I thought it was important for them to have experiences outside Lozells.
“A lot of our children live within a mile of the school. Everything the do is in Lozells. A lot of them don’t even go into the city centre.
“This helps open their eyes to what else is around them and what opportunities they can have.”
Teaching classics to children whose roots come from the Asian sub-continent presented specific challenges, claimed Ms James.
“Most people from a Western society have some idea about the Romans. But these kids hadn’t heard about Pompeii or knew anything about the ancient world.
“Now one of the girls’ older sister is hoping to take her to Rome. Rather than everyone going to Pakistan she is looking at doing something European.”