GCSE coursework 'could be abolished'

Those who responded to the call for views on coursework will be interested in this Press Association report, which I saw in The Guardian:

Press Association
Friday March 31, 2006

Coursework could become a thing of the past for GCSE students in many subjects, the government's exams watchdog said.

Ken Boston, the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said coursework would remain in place only where it was the most reliable way of ranking pupils.

In an interview with the Times Educational Supplement, he said: “In many areas of the curriculum, coursework is the only and the best way to assess. But in others it is not.”

He did not rule out abolishing coursework for subjects including English literature, although it was thought that maths GCSE would be more likely to revert to an exam-only qualification.

Last year, the education secretary, Ruth Kelly, ordered a review of the coursework content for GCSEs after the QCA warned that cheating and internet plagiarism were on the rise.

The QCA will launch a series of consultations on the future of coursework in GCSE subjects.

Vermont Latin teacher – latest

Apparently the teacher suspended for using Pompeii graffiti is back at work. Rogue Classicism reproduces an article from the Times Argus.

When I emailed the school principal he wrote back, briefly, in Latin: Non possum respondere hoc tempore.

Hear Boris Johnson on What the Romans did for us

I haven't managed the technology yet, but The Times offers a podcast of Boris Johnson's talk to the Oxford Literary Festival here.

Septimius Severus is today's ODNB biography

For the next week the entries for Septimius Severus and Caracalla from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are accessible here.

The reason that a Roman emperor features in this national dictionary is clear from the first sentence:

Septimius Severus, Lucius (145/6–211), Roman emperor, was the founder of the Severan dynasty and passed his last four years in Britain directing military operations against peoples beyond the northern frontier of the Roman province.

Caracalla is a name I know chiefly because of the magnificent Baths of Caracalla in Rome. A huge church has been made from just one part of the baths. His influence on Britain was, however, considerable:

Caracalla may have completed the campaign his father had planned for 211, while an inscription set over the east gate at Carpow seems to belong to the period when he was ruling alone. The division of Britain into two separate provinces, which Severus may have decided upon in 197, was now carried into effect, with the larger Upper Britain (Britannia Superior) in the south under a consular governor with two legions and in the north the smaller Lower Britain (Britannia Inferior) containing the remaining legion based at Eboracum. In the event, Caracalla's settlement proved lasting. The reconstruction of Hadrian's Wall defined permanently the northern limit of the Roman province, though effective control extended further north to roughly the line of the later England–Scotland border.

An unforeseen need

Radio 5 Live is now discussing the need for linguists in this age of terrorism. A reporter noted that the British universities have been diverted from their traditional functions, and that we are now realising how the nation needs what they used to provide. He pointed out that during the Second World War many of the code-breakers were Classics graduates.

New books from OUP

The latest list has arrived from Oxford. I like the look of a book on Cretan women by Rebecca Armstrong, dealing with Pasiphae, Ariadne, and Phaedra in Latin Poetry, but it costs £55, so I shan't be putting it on my Christmas list.

Another general history of Rome has been published by these authors:

Mary T. Boatwright, Professor of Ancient History, Department of Classical Studies, Duke University, Daniel J. Gargola, Associate Professor of History, University of Kentucky, Lexington, and Richard J. A. Talbert, Kenan Professor of History and Classics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The publicity says that the book is “a new and shorter version of the authors' The Romans: From Village to Empire” suitable for undergraduate students. The details are:

Price: £19.99 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-19-518715-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-19-518715-1

Perhaps it shows my age, but I am not attracted by books with titles such as Figuring Genre in Roman Satire. Roman satire, yes please. But what does the rest of the title mean? At £29.99 I think I'll leave it for now, thanks.

More promising is 69 A.D. The Year of Four Emperors by Gwyn Morgan, which OUP call

A powerful account of one of the most tumultuous periods in Roman history

It costs £17.99 for a hardback of 336 pages, which seems very reasonable. OUP quotes Peter Jones writing in the Literary Review:

“there will be much here for historians to chew, and fight, over”

Well, those are my personal reactions to titles and blurbs. I haven't read the books, but thought I'd let you know of their existence.

Latin tutors, unite – and advertise?

A Latin tutor has suggested to me that the ARLT site could add another useful service, a directory of Latin tutors.

I know that there are people up and down the country looking for Latin tuition, and I am finding out that there are people willing to turn an honest penny by teaching, so a directory sounds a good idea.

Some people are already using the ARLT Notice Board to make contacts. Are there others out there who would be interested in having their contact details published?

Cambridge Classics Project have their on-line tuition, with training for would-be tutors, so there is some quality control there. A page on the ARLT site would be just a list of those offering their services.

Your comments will be appreciated.

A Latin newspaper

I pass on this message that has come to me via Brian Bishop:

Salvi sitis omnes linguae Latinae magistri,

The son of my colleague has just resuscitated a high school student-produced
Latin newspaper called “Latin Lives” and needs help from high school Latin
students everywhere to help keep it going. (I don't know the history of the
paper exactly, but apparently it used to exist, disappeared for a long
while, and has now been launched again.)

The aforementioned student is a junior at a public high school in
California. The inaugural issue of this newspaper was published in December
2005. Since he is more or less a “one-man show” he would love to have help
from other high school students to keep it going. This help can come in the
form of helping produce the newspaper itself (as co-editor-in-chief, roving
reporters, section editors…) to submitting pieces for publication. The
format of the paper (which is flexible, of course, depending on input from
others) is currently the following: Letter from the Editor, original Latin
composition, short pieces about daily life in Rome, book reviews, games and
photos. This could be expanded to include all sorts of things like reports
from JCL certamina, interviews, etc. Really, the sky's the limit.

I'm not sure whether there is an electronic version of this newspaper
available, however he will gladly mail out a copy (or more than one) to
anyone who would like to see it and show it to their students. I think this
would be a great opportunity for creative collaboration among high school
Latin students. You can email me off-list at guinevera@gmail.com to give me
your name and address, and I'll pass the info along to him.

Who am I? you might be asking. I am a librarian at UC Berkeley for a special
collection that houses rare books (maxima ex parte Latine conscripti!), but
I am also a HUGE fan of Latin and the teaching thereof. I hold a master's
degree from the University of Kentucky (with a certificate from the
Institute for Living Latin Studies) and am an avid participant in weekly
Latin speaking and reading sessions, monthly cenae Latinae, and (time
permitting) annual Conventicula or Rusticationes.

Vivat lingua Latina, vivantque linguae Latinae magistri!

Guenevera (a.k.a. Jenny Nelson)

A level changes coming – again, do I hear you sigh?

The Guardian today runs an item headlined with news of cheating, but with the important news coming later:

In a separate interview, Mr Boston revealed the QCA plans to cut the total duration of A-level exams from 10.5 hours to a maximum of seven hours, with students sitting four papers a year rather than six.

He said too much testing can “distort the balance of the curriculum”, and argued for fewer, more difficult exams, to improve standards. The comments came ahead of the QCA's annual review, which will be published on Wednesday.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the move. “This is a good start to scaling down the bloated examination system in England, which is far greater than in any other country, and certainly more than is necessary to grade a student's achievement,” he said.

The Department for Education and Skills said: “Of course, testing should not be overburdensome and for that reason the reforms we are making to secondary education will reduce the amount of coursework at GCSE and, where appropriate, A-levels will move from six assessment units to four.”

I somehow feel that the Whitehall pen-pushers will find some way of increasing the total testing load while attempting to reduce it; or am I just becoming more cynical as I age?

Channel 4 attack on independent schools

Last Friday's 30 Minutes, which I caught while away staying with my daughter, was a sustained attack on independent schools by someone who seemed to be a teacher in a comprehensive school. I can't be sure of the details because I came in part way through. Ah, I've found the write-up on the Channel 4 site:


Phil Beadle, a recent Teacher of the Year and star of Channel 4's The Unteachables, takes on the elitist private school system.

Friday 24th March 7.35pm
Monday 27th March 4.40am

Beadle shows that a quarter of a million pounds in school fees does not necessarily buy your child a better education or a better degree, or increase their earning potential.

A champion of the comprehensive system, Phil questions why state schools get nothing but bad press and asks if private education is really worth it. Private schools use the market as their biggest defence but as Phil finds out, the market (i.e. parents) may be turning against them.

The proportion of children attending private schools has stagnated for decades and with universities not only showing obvious preferences for state school applicants, but also soon to charge massive fees themselves, parents may soon decide that private schools are no longer worth the financial burden, forcing some of them to close.

The points that were made (as I remember them) were:

  • You don't necessarily get better teachers at an independent school
  • At university independent school students don't do as well as state school students with identical A level grades
  • Therefore state school pupils may end up earning more.

What the programme did not mention was that hardly any pupils in state schools get the chance to study the Classics. If the withering of the independent sector meant that every state school taught Latin, then I should not be so unhappy at seeing the end of the dual system.

Not so unhappy. But still uneasy, because a government monopoly on education would almost inevitably pave the way for indoctrination of our children with whatever views were flavour of the month with our political masters.