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With around 95% of state schools no longer offering Latin, access is the critical issue for survival of the subject. Will Griffiths, director of the Cambridge School Classics Project (CSCP), looks at a DfES initiative to address this and highlights the competitive advantage that offering Latin can give schools.

In 1907, the Department for Education issued a warning to all headteachers: ensure teachers’ pronunciation of Latin is consistent across your school, or else. Few existing headteachers will today be struggling to ensure that the many teachers in their extensive Latin departments adopt a consistent approach to pronunciation – the days when Latin was at the heart of the core curriculum are long gone. What happened to a subject that was long used as a vehicle for developing skills in language, history, literacy, literature, philosophy, analysis and debate? And why has the DfES spent £5m encouraging you to think again about it?

Why has Latin teaching in schools declined? A number of factors led to a decline in Latin teaching in schools in the second half of the last century. In the early 1960s Oxford and Cambridge Universities removed Latin as a compulsory entry requirement. Within eight years of the requirement being dropped, the numbers taking O-level Latin fell by more than 30%.

In more recent years, Latin’s position in the school curriculum was made more precarious by the introduction of the national curriculum under the 1988 Education Reform Act. In order to comply with statutory requirements in other subject areas, many headteachers had to reduce both timetable allocation and resourcing (including staffing) for Latin, with a consequent fall in the number of students taking the subject through to public examinations. Data from examination entries for Latin GCSE confirm that Latin has almost disappeared from some areas of England. For example, of the 267 secondary schools in the East Midlands only three non-selective schools (out of 252) entered candidates. Where vacancies have arisen, headteachers in state schools have reported major difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified classics teachers.

Is Latin making a comeback? Oxbridge’s decision to drop Latin as an entry requirement forced the Latin teaching community to reassess its aims and methods. It was no longer possible to bore students – compulsory lessons were over and Latin teachers had to start to fight for students in the marketplace. As a result, some radical changes were made to teaching and learning methods and to what constituted ‘Latin’. Instead of requiring pupils to work their way through years of meaningless English sentences for translation into Latin, a new course was developed which focused on developing pupils’ reading skills through a series of stories set firmly in the culture of the first century AD. Today, therefore, if you offer Latin, your students still study the same linguistic features in Latin as they ever did, but in a much more meaningful, relevant and engaging context. Continuation rates among students who start Latin tend to be consistent with other non-core subjects.

While the introduction of the national curriculum reduced GCSE entries by about a third between 1988 and 1998 (from 16,000 candidates to just under 11,000), the worst of its impact seems now to be over and Latin is starting to show signs of recovery. Since 2000, GCSE entry figures have stabilised around the 10,000 mark. Yet with approximately 95% of state schools no longer offering Latin, access is the critical issue for the survival of the subject. It is partly because the study of the ancient world has become so inaccessible that more and more students are intrigued by it. A major DfES initiative, discussed later, is addressing the issue of access to the subject.

What are the advantages of making Latin available to students? Latin is a broad-ranging subject. Your students will study not only the language, but also the literature and civilisation of the ancient Romans. Latin is intrinsically interesting to anyone who likes people, ideas, words, the past or studying the way society works. It is generally accepted that the study of Latin will also help your students with their learning of modern foreign languages and English. A strong argument can be made that in a global economy you should not so much be teaching your students a particular language, but giving them an ability to learn any language. This requires educating and enthusing students about the way language itself works. Doing so through the medium of a language that is at the heart of many modern European languages, and through a culture that shaped all of Europe, is a very practical solution. Some headteachers are introducing Latin to meet the needs of their gifted and talented cohorts. The subject is often seen as academically demanding and it has the advantage that while it helps your students with their understanding of English, modern foreign languages (MFL) or history, they are unlikely to find themselves repeating work in their other lessons. Latin also often appeals to headteachers of schools with specialist language status.

Since only 5% of schools currently offer Latin, in a highly competitive market it can help you to set your school apart. Offering Latin certainly seems to impress parents, with almost all parental feedback being positive, not least in areas of significant social disadvantage such as inner London.

How can you introduce Latin into your school? In 2000, the DfES began a major initiative to allow you to offer Latin, even if you don’t have a specialist Latin teacher on your staff. Approximately £5m has been invested to create materials and support structures which allow headteachers of schools without specialist Latin teachers to enable their students to learn Latin. In over 50 schools, including schools in the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Lambeth and Southwark, teachers of English, history, PE, geography and modern languages have been running sessions once a week, usually after school. Most headteachers aim the courses at year 8 students and run the course for one academic year, although some schools continue through to GCSE, while others repeat short courses of just a few weeks. Predominantly the teachers running the sessions have had little or no experience of Latin themselves. Nonetheless, student attainment in the trial schools has been consistent with that in the traditional classroom. From September 2005, the initiative has been made nationally available. A major part of the investment has focused on the development of e-learning materials which have been designed to be used in a variety of contexts: where students are studying independently, where whole classes of students are studying with a teacher who is not a Latin specialist, and also in the more traditional situation where students are learning with a specialist Latin teacher. The e-learning materials are designed to be used in conjunction with the print materials of the Cambridge Latin Course, already used by 80% of schools in the UK which offer Latin. Research showed that students and teachers preferred using a blend of electronic and print materials, not least because changing between the two formats creates variety. While reactions to the e-learning materials were extremely positive, the students also appreciated having a ‘solid’ book and teachers felt reassured knowing that print materials were available to them should the school computer network fail. The e-learning materials themselves are the most advanced available for any subject. Over 2,000 activities have been created, ranging from video documentaries on Roman life to interactive exercises on linguistic features. Actors and actresses play the characters in the course, so stories have been dramatised and video introductions created. In addition, audio for every story is provided, so that your students can be exposed to accurate pronunciation and start to appreciate that Latin was a living language. Adhering to a tried and tested inductive approach, students are first exposed to new linguistic features, before studying explanations from an on-screen teacher using examples from the course. The e-learning software contains courses of different lengths, in which the activities are organised into one-hour sessions. As most headteachers don’t have a Latin specialist on the staff, non-specialist teachers, their students and independent learners can follow these courses, altering the pace at which they progress to suit their specific requirements. Support structures allow your students to send work for assessment to e-markers or e-tutors by email, secure web forum or post. E-markers mark work, return it to students and send a mark list to the class teacher. E-tutors do likewise, but as they are specialist Latin teachers, they give more detailed feedback to your students and provide week-by-week advice to the class teacher, along with more personalised lesson planning if required. Video-conference teaching is used if you choose to offer Latin beyond KS3. At GCSE and A-level, the difficulty of the subject requires ‘face-to-face’ immediate feedback from a specialist teacher to allow the full range of students to achieve their potential.

If your students don’t progress to GCSE, accreditation is available from the Cambridge School Classics Project at various stages throughout the KS3 course. The first level of accreditation is available after approximately 12 hours of study, ensuring that almost all your students will have access to certificated assessment at some stage.

How much does it cost to set up a Latin class?
The e-learning software itself is heavily subsidised by the DfES and will cost you just over £45. An annual site licence, £45, is required to run the software via a data-projector or over a network. You can pay for the software itself and the licence using your e-learning credits. A class set of books, including teacher’s guide etc, will usually set you back about £300. Two organisations, the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies (www.romansociety.org) and the Friends of Classics (www.friends-classics.demon.co.uk) give considerable financial support to schools wishing to purchase Latin books for new classes.

The DfES has charged the School Classics Project, based at Cambridge University, with helping schools start up Latin. General support and advice about setting up a Latin class is available free of charge from the Cambridge School Classics Project (CSCP) by phone on 01223 330579, or visit www.cambridgescp.com. If you opt for marking, tutoring or video-conference support, you pay by the hour. E-marking costs £11 per hour and e-tutoring £22 per hour. Video-conference teaching costs £30 per hour.

Contact: [email protected]

Will Griffiths is director of the Cambridge School Classics Project (CSCP) and chair of the Latin Committee of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT). CSCP was established in 1966 as a project within the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education to support the teaching and learning of classical subjects in schools.

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Nov 2005

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