“Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum”

If this report is accurate it is really good news for Latin teaching. The worrying figures are of the extremely low numbers of Latin teachers being trained. This seems to be because of deliberate government policy in the past. If hoi en telei are beginning to see the light, then perhaps more centres than just Cambridge and London may be allowed to train Classics specialists. Have I not heard, for example, that Oxford used to have a Classics Faculty? As a Cambridge man I can’t be sure …

But to be serious, unless something drastic is done very quickly we shall not have enough teachers for a renewed demand in state schools – indeed, we don’t have enough as it is.

Perhaps as a temporary measure we can mobilise the equivalent of the Chinese barefoot doctors, people who have enough training to do the job, though lacking full qualifications.

Daily Telegraph

Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum following an official review.

By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 9:05AM GMT 27 Dec 2008

Ministers believe it is an “important subject” and may help school pupils to learn modern languages.

Less than 15 per cent of state schools teach Latin and the number of qualified teachers is falling.

However, the Department for Education is understood to be considering adding Latin to the new Languages diploma, which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels from next year. Baroness Morgan, the schools minister, has indicated that the Government wishes to see Latin regain its status as an important language.

She said it was “an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils’ learning of modern languages”. She added that the Language Diploma Development Partnership was “considering the place of Latin”.

Well-placed sources said that the language was expected to be reinstated as an official curriculum language next year.

Baroness Morgan made the comments in response to calls from another Labour peer, Lord Faulkner of Worcester who said it helped students to learn other languages.

“Each year, 35 new Latin teachers are trained but over 60 are leaving the profession,” he said. “Isn’t it time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and was given the same encouragement as other languages?” Over the past 20 years, the teaching of Latin has rapidly declined in state schools and classicists have predicted that it could disappear altogether in the next decade.

In 1988, 16,023 students were entered for GCSE, with 53 per cent from state schools. However, since 2000 only about 10,000 pupils annually have entered for GCSE Latin, with only 37 per cent from the state sector.

Lady Morgan said that the number of younger children studying Latin had already risen sharply over the past decade following Government investment in computer software and other teaching tools.

There are only two teacher-training courses in Latin, at Cambridge University and King’s College London. Therefore, the number of Latin teachers is falling rapidly as staff retire.

Bob Lister, a lecturer in classics education at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: “Unless someone at a senior level comes up with serious ways of supporting Latin I fear that within the next generation it will pretty much disappear.”

He added: “We don’t want to be seen to be dumbing down the classics but for an average school student who doesn’t start to learn Latin until they are 13, GCSE Latin is extremely hard work.”

Meanwhile, peers have also asked to be given access to Latin lessons in the House of Lords. Baroness O’Cathain, a Conservative peer, asked for Latin courses to be added a list of 10 modern languages on offer to peers.

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Primary curriculum to be changed radically

So, yet another educational change proposed.

According to the BBC news site,

The report from government adviser Sir Jim Rose wants to create a more flexible, less “overloaded” timetable.

As I’ve noted before, when the National Curriculum was proposed I assumed that it would provide for a minimum of stuff that every child would be expected to know, and that individual schools and teachers would be able to organise their teaching as usual, provided that this minimum was included.

I became more and more horrified as I learned just how all-embracing the NC was going to be.

Now at last, many years later, it looks as though primary schools are to have something more like my original expectations. There are to be six areas of learning:

  • understanding English, communication and languages
  • mathematical understanding; scientific and technological understanding
  • scientific and technological understanding
  • human, social and environmental understanding
  • understanding physical health and well-being
  • understanding the arts and design

My fear is that civil servants in the education department will take these as the outline which they will colour in (to use, clumsily, a primary school image) with just as much prescriptive jargon as before. Give the whole schools section of the department an extended holiday while the report is handed to schools – as guidance rather than command – and then let them come back from holiday and turn their attention to something else, like repairing leaking classrooms. Leave teaching to teachers.

Number One Son was at primary school before the NC came in, and was caused by a trendy teacher to spend a whole term writing and illustrating a project on birds. Nothing else, as far as I could see. No textbooks in the classroom. The headmaster assured me that Number One Son would reach the same levels as if he had had conventional teaching (and in fact he got a good Cambridge Classics degree); but perhaps the NC was devised to avoid extremes like that.

It is encouraging that the first area of learning is to be “understanding English, communication and languages” – languages plural.

The all-party Parliamentary Classics Group

A friend has given me the url (web address) giving the officers and members of the all-party parliamentary Classics group. It is http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/memi211.htm

The group is chaired by Michael Fallon; the treasurer is Tim Loughton. Contact details:

Mr Michael Fallon MP, House of Commons, London SW1A OAA. Tel: 020 7219 6482

Mary Beard is suspicious of HEAR

If you haven’t HEARd about it yet, as I hadn’t, HEAR stands for Higher Education Achievement Record.

Have a look at Mary Beard’s reaction, speaking from long experience. Her blog post is here.

I was interested in the first comment logged on The Guardian website that she links to. It begins:

A move away from the classification system is indeed to be welcomed. It is tired and anachronistic.

Many years ago, C.S. Lewis warned us to beware the person whose only criticism of something is that it is not modern.  Perhaps the Olympic Committee should look again at the tired and anachronistic system of awarding a gold medal to the sprinter who crosses the line first, and instead take into account all the times the athlete recorded while in training.

Scottish Education Secretary supports Latin

If anything comes of this, it could be excellent news.

My Google alerts are failing to provide live links this evening, so this is via Fantasy Book Review

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop last night announced her support
for the “dead” language to be resuscitated in classrooms in a move
which would see children as young as nine studying the language and
culture of ancient Rome. Hyslop, who herself studied classics at
school, believes teaching Latin will give youngsters a better
understanding of their own language as well as making it easier to
learn French and Spanish.

And with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books
making Latin more popular than ever with children, as the boy wizard
casts his spells in the ancient language, there is an appetite for
learning among pupils. Teachers and politicians last night welcomed the
move but warned Hyslop would have to find extra funds to help colleges
train classics teachers and councils employ them. Although Latin
remains an optional subject on the school curriculum in Scotland, its
popularity has dwindled over the past decade. This summer, the numbers
of pupils sitting Higher Latin fell to just 826, with only a quarter of
candidates coming from state schools. South of the border Latin is
already enjoying a renaissance. The number of schools offering Latin in
England has tripled in the past eight years. A source close to Hyslop
said the minister believed her own study of classics gave her a solid
basis for learning English grammar and modern languages. The source
added that Hyslop’s target of improving literacy could be propped up by
the teaching of Latin.

Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop last night announced her support
for the “dead” language to be resuscitated in classrooms in a move
which would see children as young as nine studying the language and
culture of ancient Rome. Hyslop, who herself studied classics at
school, believes teaching Latin will give youngsters a better
understanding of their own language as well as making it easier to
learn French and Spanish.

And with JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books
making Latin more popular than ever with children, as the boy wizard
casts his spells in the ancient language, there is an appetite for
learning among pupils. Teachers and politicians last night welcomed the
move but warned Hyslop would have to find extra funds to help colleges
train classics teachers and councils employ them. Although Latin
remains an optional subject on the school curriculum in Scotland, its
popularity has dwindled over the past decade. This summer, the numbers
of pupils sitting Higher Latin fell to just 826, with only a quarter of
candidates coming from state schools. South of the border Latin is
already enjoying a renaissance. The number of schools offering Latin in
England has tripled in the past eight years. A source close to Hyslop
said the minister believed her own study of classics gave her a solid
basis for learning English grammar and modern languages. The source
added that Hyslop’s target of improving literacy could be propped up by
the teaching of Latin.

Letter to the NY Times editor

Re “A Dead Language That’s Very Much Alive” (news article, Oct. 7):

Latin
is attracting increasing numbers of students who recognize the good
things it does to their minds. The number of high school students
taking Advanced Placement examinations in Virgil or Latin literature
has increased to 8,461 in 2008 from 5,366 in 1998.

Yet in April,
the College Board, without consulting Latin teachers in schools or
universities, announced the elimination of the Latin literature exam.

As one of my seventh graders said: “I like Latin. It feels good in my brain.”

Too
bad the College Board didn’t bother to ask either his teachers or
experts in Latin literature before they made a decision that will make
it harder for American students to take advantage of all the good that
Latin does.

Lee T. Pearcy
Bryn Mawr, Pa., Oct. 8, 2008

The writer is vice president for education, American Philological Association.

Petition to save Medieval Latin at Heidelberg

There’s a petition here to save the Medieval and Modern Latin department in Heidelberg University.