From the Scotsman
Latin enjoys a renaissance at Prime Minister's old school
IT IS seen as the preserve of independent, fee-paying schools, but
Latin is thriving at one state secondary, where it has proved more
popular than French.
Nationally, the number learning the ancient language is dropping, but Kirkcaldy High is bucking the trend.
decade ago, only four pupils there were studying Latin and classics.
This year, there are more than 100 taking exams in the classics
department, which has two Latin teachers.
Jennifer Shearer, the head of classics, said the school had a distinguished history of teaching Latin.
Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-century historian and philosopher, once
taught the language at the school, and its former Latin students
include the architect Robert Adam and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.
Mrs Shearer said: “The school has one of the biggest Latin uptakes
in any state Scottish school. Pupils from Europe even come here to do
their sixth year because of the Latin we offer.
“Latin is far from dead – its influence reaches way beyond the limits of the subject itself.
“It helps with English, because 70 per cent of English vocabulary
comes from Latin, and it accelerates the learning of other modern
“In total, there are more than 700 million people in the world today whose first language is directly descendent from Latin.
“If you were to plonk a Latin pupil in one of those countries, they would be able to cope with the language.”
Modern languages are compulsory to Standard grade level at
Kirkcaldy, while Latin is optional, meaning the numbers taking Standard
grade French far outweigh those taking Latin.
However, when pupils have a free choice at Higher level, the number taking Latin dwarfs the handful doing Higher French.
There are 103 pupils studying Latin or classical studies at Kirkcaldy High, with 16 taking a Higher.
There are a similar number taking German, while only a few have chosen French or Spanish.
Mrs Shearer said: “It can be difficult for a pupil, early in their
school career, to decide which subjects to take – will they be relevant
to anything they may eventually want to pursue as a career path?
“If they study Latin, no matter what they eventually become, the
things they learn in Latin can be applied to any other subject. Latin
can never be a wrong choice.”
According to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the number of
pupils taking Higher Latin has remained roughly stable over the past
seven years. Some 234 pupils are due to take it this school year. But
the overall number sitting Latin exams, including Standard grade and
Intermediate courses, has dropped from 945 last year to 847.
Dr Peter Jones, a former professor of classics at Newcastle
University and spokesman for the Joint Association of Classics
Teachers, said: “The problem is teachers. Strathclyde is the only
university in Scotland that trains Latin teachers and they only do it
now and again, depending on need.
“In England, only London University and Cambridge train 30 Latin
teachers a year between them. However, there are 150 advertisements for
Latin teachers each year.”
He also expressed concern that the Classical Greek Standard grade in
Scotland is under threat. He said: “It is not a dead language – it is
immortal. So much of our culture derives from the Greek and Roman
worlds. The whole idea of empire, democracy and republicanism and
Europe – all this derives from the ancient world.”
The SQA confirmed the subject was under review as fewer than nine
pupils had chosen the subject for the past three years. A spokesman
said: “It clearly does have very small numbers, but decisions are made
not just on the numbers but on other factors.”