Latin should be included in the national curriculum to avoid it becoming a “Cinderella language”, Education Secretary Michael Gove is being told.
At present, the Department for Education has a list of languages that can be studied as part of the languages curriculum for Key Stage Three (11 to 14-year-olds). However, it only covers modern foreign languages and omits Latin.
Politeia, the right-wing think-tank, argues in a pamphlet this could discourage schools from offering the subject - thus creating a situation where it “is in danger of being the Cinderella of foreign languages”.
“This position should be changed,” said Sheila Lawlor, director of Politeia. “Because of the classroom time schools need to meet legal obligations, subjects which are not included in the national curriculum tend to be neglected by schools and it becomes difficult for pupils to study them in addition to the subjects legally required.
“If Latin is not an option within the national curriculum, fewer students are likely to study it. It is wrong to penalise pupils who prefer to keep up Latin as their main language in secondary school (or who would like to start it there). The evidence is that such study benefits their whole education and equips them to learn a whole range of other languages.”
According to David Butterfield, one of the authors of the pamphlet, and a lecturer in Ancient Literature and fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge, a far smaller percentage of state schools offer Latin that in the independent sector. Many offer the subject outside of school hours - in lunchtime or after school clubs. Overall, about 10,000 students take Latin GCSE, a figure that has remained steady over the past decade.
“In the 21st century, however, Latin finds itself the subject of frequent attacks - as an outmoded dead language with nothing to tell the modern world, as a dispiritingly difficult subject to master and as a bastion of anachronistic privilege and elitism,” he said.
“All of these criticisms are entirely devoid of truth and are typically levelled by those without direct contact with the present-day status of the subject and its teaching.”
John Macintosh, former headteacher of the London Oratory, which does include Latin and Greek in its offer to pupils, said the UK “had to get away” from the idea that only modern languages should be taught.
“I suspect that’s why Latin has suffered more than other subjects,” he said. “The argument is if they (the pupils) go to Spain and want to buy a bag of chips. they should ask for them in Spanish.”
Mr Gove is known to be a keen supporter of the classics and has insisted that Latin and Greek are among the options that can be taught for the English Baccalaureate league table ranking, which insists pupils must have at least five A* to C grade passes in English, maths, science a foreign language and a humanities subject, history or geography.
In addition, the pamphlet argues that pupils can still study ancient languages at GCSE level and that it is a permissible language for study in primary schools for seven to 11-year-olds as part of the national curriculum. However, it adds that - unless it is included in the secondary school national curriculum - it will not reach its true potential.
A Department for Education official told the seminar held to launch the pamphlet that Latin had been excluded from the Key Stage Three list of permissible languages under the curriculum because its inclusion could have meant that some pupils did not study a single modern foreign language between the ages of 11 and 14 and that was not what ministers had intended.
A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “There is nothing to stop schools from teaching Latin, In fact, students can study any ancient or modern language , including Latin, as part of the EBacc.
“We are addressing the chronic lack of attention paid to foreign languages in schools. For the first time ever, we have made it compulsory for primary schools to teach a language – which may be Latin – so that children can learn this crucial skill from a young age.”