Two pieces of news have been passed on to me in recent days, both interesting on their own merits, but more so when considered together.
Firstly, a researcher at the University of Cambridge School Classics project has spent the last five months telephoning every single secondary school in the country, and has discovered that there are still 1,081 schools which offer Latin, 447 of them independent schools and 634 of them state schools. 58 more state schools are due to start offering the subject in September.
So for the first time since the introduction of modern language GCSEs in the 1980s, Latin is now offered in more state than independent schools. I don’t want to be overly optimistic about this. Latin has hardly found its way into hundreds of sink-estate comprehensive schools throughout Britain – doubtless of the 634 state schools a large number will be selective grammars. Moreover 634 schools make up only 13 per cent of state schools, while 447 is 60 per cent of independent schools. Nevertheless, the figure is an extremely encouraging one, reflecting the success of the £5 million DfES funding for digital materials to support the study of Classics in schools, and of the Government’s “Gifted and Talented” initiative.
Overall, there are now 115 more schools offering Latin than there were in 2008. More than anything, this reflects the increasing awareness that Latin, unlike subjects such as English, cannot be “dumbed down”, making a GCSE or A level in it a very useful tool for any pupil wishing to prove their intelligence. While the recommended number of tuition hours for a GCSE course is 120-140, for Latin the average input is 272. That’s twice as much. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, Latin is obviously harder than other subjects. This used to be a reason for schools to stop offering it – now the opposite is true.
The second piece of news was that a group of 20 Oxfordshire students who have been studying Latin from scratch on Saturday mornings for the past two years received their GCSE results on Tuesday. The programme was offered by the Oxford University’s Latin Teaching Scheme, and had an extremely low dropout rate. The students achieved 14 A* to C grades (including 3 A*s and 3As), and many of them are going on to study the subject at A level.
The success (and very existence) of this scheme is an excellent thing – but it is also a shame that these students have had to give up their Saturday mornings to achieve such a worthwhile qualification. The Oxford Classics faculty runs the programme (and funds it entirely without government subsidy) because not a single state school in Oxfordshire offers Latin to GCSE or A level. Given the evident rise of Latin elsewhere, this is surprising and a great shame. Latin is neither dead nor dying, but this is proof that the work of the Government and of universities to facilitate and encourage Latin in the state sector is far from done.