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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Anger as exam board drops classics
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The UK's biggest exam board has outraged classicists by deciding to drop Latin and ancient Greek.

The decision by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) means only one examiner, OCR, will offer classics at GCSE and A-level.

The qualifications regulator says it is not concerned by AQA's decision because there is this alternative.

The decision was part of what AQA calls a "strategic review" - and other subjects may also be facing the axe.

'Behind closed doors'

"It's a business decision for the awarding body," said the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

But there has been an angry reaction from the National Co-ordinating Committee for Classics, which represents a group of interested organisations.

It said AQA had made the decision without inviting discussion on the matter with, or even informing, its external subject advisers, let alone the Joint Association of Classical Teachers (JACT), the subjects' main sponsoring body.

Spokesman Dr Peter Jones said: "There is a strong sense of outrage in the classical community at a policy that leaves only one board (OCR) to examine all classical languages.

"The AQA board clearly has no confidence in itself or in the propriety of the decisions it takes, if it has to conduct its business on a matter of public importance behind closed doors without reference to, or any discussion with, those the board is supposed to serve."


The secretary of the JACT Greek committee, Dr John Taylor - head of classics at Tonbridge School - said a major concern was that the AQA and OCR syllabuses were not comparable, particularly for GCSE classical Greek.

"In terms of vocabulary, it is almost twice as long for OCR and the set texts are considerably longer.

"It means schools that do Greek in limited time - which the majority do these days - would find it very difficult to do the OCR specification."

He said AQA could not claim it had a dwindling market for Greek. Because of its more accessible syllabus, its share had gone up from about 20% to about 55%, he said.

"They are effectively taking away more than half the market.

"It's difficult to keep Greek in schools and unless there's some solution it will deal it a death blow."

Another concern was the principle that no one board should have a monopoly on a subject.

AQA said it regretted the way its decision had leaked out before it had had a chance to inform schools of the changes it was making.

Other changes

A spokesperson said: "We have done a strategic review of our portfolio of subjects and looked at what we offer schools and what is out there from all the awarding bodies.

"This is an area where we don't have large numbers of centres and candidates."

It was not the board's usual practice to consult schools first.

Asked what else had been considered in the review, she said there were "a few other changes" but declined to go into detail before letters go out to schools - probably at the end of next week.

But she added: "In some cases we may be looking at merging or closing specifications. One or two may be withdrawn."

The overall numbers of students taking Latin and Greek, though small, have been fairly constant in recent years - about 10,000 doing Latin and 1,000 doing Greek at GCSE.

Their results are extremely good. Last year, for example, 63% of those who did Latin GCSEs across the UK got A* or A grades, whereas the average across all subjects is less than 17%.

AQA intends to examine the subjects for the last time in 2006.

The other big examiner, Edexcel, does not offer Latin or Greek, nor do the Wales or Northern Ireland-based boards.

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