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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 January 2008, 00:28 GMT
School Latin rise 'an illusion'
Roman statue
Interest in Latin has grown but not to exam level
The number of state secondary schools teaching Latin has doubled over the last seven years, statistics reveal.

The change shows government attempts to encourage the study of Latin have largely worked, says the Cambridge Schools Classics Project (CSCP).

But one education specialist fears the rise is limited to Key Stage 3 pupils aged 12-14 - not GCSE and A-level.

Without "top level" support Latin teaching could vanish in a generation, Cambridge's Bob Lister says.

Records show that about 200 non-selective state secondary schools in England were teaching Latin in 2000.

By 2007 this had risen to 471 non-selective schools, according to research carried out by the CSCP between January and May last year.

There is no breakdown of whether schools are offering the subject all the way through to GCSE and A-level, but figures from the combined examining boards suggest they are not.
I think we are at a critical point in that we can point to evidence that there is an interest and demand for Latin but there is a problem as to how it is met
Bob Lister, classics lecturer, University of Cambridge

In 1988, 16,023 students were entered for GCSE Latin (53% from state schools).

This fell to 13,408 in 1992 (38% from state schools) and 10,561 in 2000 (37% from state schools).

Numbers have remained at around 10,000 since then.

There is also a shortage of teachers - largely due to the falling number of postgraduate teacher training (PGCE) Latin courses around the country.

Just two centres run PGCE Latin courses - Cambridge University and King's College London.

Only 30 PGCE Latin places have been allocated this year, while 72 Latin teachers are due to retire every year for the next five years.

League table pressure

CSCP's director Will Griffiths said: "There is clearly a large amount of interest across the country for the study of Latin.

"A huge number of schools are offering it at Key Stage 3 and that's because the government created a software package for Key Stage 3 Latin in 2000.

"But GCSE Latin is hard. It's said that it is more difficult to get an E in Latin than to get a C in any other subject.

"This makes it a deterrent for students to choose Latin and for schools to teach it because they want to get good results for the league tables."

The CSCP team says GCSE Latin needs to be made easier to create a level playing field.

Bob Lister, lecturer in classics education at the University of Cambridge, said: "Unless someone at a senior level comes up with serious ways of supporting Latin I fear that within the next generation it will pretty much disappear."

'Target driven' system

The state sector had more of a problem recruiting and retaining staff than the private sector. And state schools would not consider offering Latin if there were only a handful of interested students, he said.

"More staff are leaving the profession than entering it.

"The number of people applying for jobs has diminished and head teachers' perceptions are that the quality in the field has diminished."

He added: "We don't want to be seen to be dumbing down the classics but for an average school student who doesn't start to learn Latin until they are 13, GCSE Latin is extremely hard work.

"When confronted with Latin or German they will choose German."

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman said GCSE entries had remained steady since 2000.

"It is for individual schools and their governing bodies to decide whether to include the classics - including classical languages - in their respective curriculum."

She said schools with humanities as a specialism had the option to focus on the teaching and learning of classical studies - Latin, Classical Greek and classical civilisation - alongside a core option of history, geography or English.

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