Leading article: Latin: back from the dead

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Latin is not only a dead language, it is also almost dead in state schools. The Government, however, wants to revive it.

Latin is not only a dead language, it is also almost dead in state schools. The Government, however, wants to revive it. That is why the Department for Education and Skills is backing a project to adapt the Cambridge Latin Course to DVD. And that can only be a good thing. The main reason why classics courses at university level are dominated by independent school pupils is that comprehensive schools tend not to teach Latin or Greek, partly because there are very few teachers out there. In 2000, only 11,624 children were sitting GCSE Latin, two-thirds of them from independent schools. It is well known that one way for privately educated students to gain admission to Oxford and Cambridge is to apply for classics, as the competition in this subject is less fierce. So, anything that makes Latin more acceptable to a mass audience is to be welcomed.

People who learnt the subject in the bad old days when the required textbook was Approach to Latin (or what schoolchildren called Approach to Eatin) may find the idea of a revival appalling. They remember a dreary subject - filled with farmers and sailors, and queens perambulating in woods - taught in a dull way. But the subject has been transformed, first by the Cambridge Latin Project with its story-based technique, and second by the tale of Minimus, the mouse that lives with a Roman family in Vindolanda, near Hadrian's Wall. So there is little danger that the DVD approach will send today's generation of students up the wall with boredom. Indeed, the hope is that it will inspire them to study the language further, and give them a good dose of the roots of English and its grammar. So far the signs are good. The project has been piloted in 40 schools and the feedback is positive. The pupils like it.

The developers of the new e-learning resource say that anyone can deliver the DVD-based lessons to pupils, who can then direct their inquiries to an e-tutor over the internet. It means that every secondary school in the country can have access to the programme. In theory, then, this September the subject could be back on the timetable of every state school. This is probably the only way that Latin is going to be saved, because it is unlikely that a new cohort of Latin teacher trainees will come forward for training.