Tags: Curriculum Development | Curriculum Manager | Subject Leader | Teaching & Learning Coordinator | Teaching and Learning

Latin is a highly valued part of the curriculum at Benton Park School. Principal Anne Clarke explains why.

Latin was always an essential part of a grammar school curriculum. With the advent of the comprehensive school system, in the 1970s, came the demise of Latin in state schools.

Few modern comprehensives include Latin as part of the curriculum, and the knock-on effect has been the closure or reduction in size of classics departments at universities.

At Benton Park we still offer Latin as a GCSE option subject, albeit it as a twilight course. We have been fortunate enough to acquire the services of an exceptional teacher who can deliver excellent results from pupils who are taught for a two-hour period, after the main school day, once a week over two years. In fact, last year three out of the 13 pupils who took the GCSE examination gained an A*. Overall we have 17 pupils currently studying Latin. A small number maybe but, at least, we are still carrying the classical torch.

The value of Latin
Why do we value this subject so much? I asked this question of the teacher herself, the languages department, present and former Latin scholars, and parents. There were common points that all those who were consulted made. Namely:

  • it greatly enhances the understanding of vocabulary (so many words are derived from Latin) and grammatical structures in English and in the Romance languages
  • it is useful for the study of sciences, especially understanding the Latin names of species
  • it allows one, not only to understand legal references, but also to appreciate how our legal system came about
  • it is demanding and challenging, thus useful in training and developing the mind.

The languages department added the following points:

  • western civilisation is founded upon the Latin empire, so studying it allows us to see how history has shaped us as a nation
  • students are made aware that Latin is still in use today (‘exit’, ‘habitat’, ‘etc’, ‘am’, ‘pm’) and they appreciate the impact and input it still has in relation to our society
  • Latin literature has informed other more ‘recent’ literature, Shakespeare for example.

Interestingly enough, a parent who herself studied Latin and whose son studied Latin, made some of the points already mentioned above, but added that perhaps Latin should be introduced into primary schools instead of a modern foreign language, the reason being that it would help pupils with their understanding of English. She did acknowledge that there would not be enough teachers to deliver the subject. But, there again, there are not enough well-qualified modern foreign language (MFL) teachers to deliver an MFL in primary schools now, but the initiative continues.

Student feedback My favourite comments come from the students themselves who have either studied Latin or are doing so now. One student wrote: ‘Learning Latin is like uncovering the scaffolding that was used to build the languages of so many countries: how can anyone fail to be interested in that?’ She continues: ‘An enriched knowledge of how words have evolved and how they constantly cross boundaries between languages is something intriguing and invaluable to have when studying almost anything involving words.’ I am delighted that we offer a subject which excites so much passion from a learner. Students feel that by studying a subject which is demanding, they show they are motivated and not afraid of hard work. One student described Latin as ‘a tough subject, with a close focus on complex grammatical constructions’, and another said it ‘is fast-moving and thought-provoking’. As headteacher, I am eager that we continue to offer Latin and the reasons for this have already been rehearsed by those I invited to make a comment. Over and above these, I would add the fact, also cited by a former parent, that teaching Latin sets us apart from other schools. It also means that we are able to meet some of the demands placed upon us by the current plethora of educational initiatives. It means we offer an additional, challenging subject for our ‘gifted and talented’ pupils. As Latin is taught as part of our three-part day (we offer a number of curriculum options post school day), it also fits into the extended schools initiative. Additionally, it provides a depth to our curriculum, which is very much valued. Currently, in education, the emphasis is on the learner and the demand is placed upon schools to find the right learning pathways for their students. We have developed a ‘work-related curriculum’ for our pupils who cannot engage with the more academic programme, which only delivers classroom-based GCSEs. By continuing to offer Latin we are providing a mind-stretching subject, which clearly delights our students, who thrive on this intellectual stimulation.

If ‘personalised learning’ means that we should be providing a curriculum diet, which offers something for all our students, then Latin fits this agenda. It is supplying the need of some of our students who can take such a subject in their stride and thrive by doing so. ‘Veni, vidi,vici’? Latin certainly continues to conquer the hearts and minds at Benton Park School.

This article first appeared in Secondary Headship – Nov 2005

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