Primary-school children might benefit from learning Spanish or even Latin, the Government's chief curriculum adviser said yesterday.
Dr Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, was speaking at a conference on the role of modern languages in the primary curriculum.
Today the conference will hear from classicists who say that learning Latin from the age of seven improves children's English and particularly their grammar.
Jean Cross, from St John's primary school in Camborne, Cornwall, will demonstrate how she teaches Latin to seven-year-olds. She says their use of language improves dramatically.
Dr Tate made it clear that the authority has not yet decided its policy on languages in primary schools. Both the Government and Labour have promised that there will be no big curriculum changes before 2000, though Labour wants modern languages to be compulsory in primary schools.
Dr Tate said that if a language were to be made compulsory, it had to be decided which it should be. There might be a case for Latin as a basis for other languages, or for Spanish which was spoken by far more people world-wide than French.
"Are there benefits from heightening their awareness of language that survive the transfer from one language to another?" he asked. "What are the particular benefits from an early study of Latin, not least in laying the foundations for a later study of the Romance languages?
Later he said: "France has traditionally occupied a special place in England's consciousness, not least because of the history we have shared from medieval times and the constant cultural exchange between the educated classes. But should this continue?"
Peter Jones of Friends of Classics said that research in the United States in the Seventies showed that a little regular Latin for 10-year-olds advanced their spelling, their knowledge about words and their reading.
Barbara Bell, secretary of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers, who will address the conference in London today, said the association was producing materials to teach Latin to pupils aged between seven and eleven. "We are suggesting schools might offer half an hour's Latin a week. Of course this would be optional."
The National Union of Teachers said that the demands of the primary national curriculum were already heavy. The union added that the proposal would necessitate a big investment in teacher-training.
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