Buried in the education white paper is the fact that ancient languages now get to be counted as "languages" in our schools.
Yes, of course Latin is a language, as indeed is Greek, but hitherto they have not counted towards official language attainments in schools. I'm delighted that is going to change. In fact, it is a fairly technical distinction; it won't exactly herald a mass stampede towards "amo amas amat" in our state schools. But it does iron out what was an absurd anomoly. And it means that it can no longer be argued that because Latin has no official status in the assessment of a school's achievements, it should not be studied. Latin gets in through the front door, at last. It will now – dread phrase – "add value".
This can be only good news to the just-launched charity and campaign, Classics for All. Its aims are simple – as the website says: "Every child in every UK state school deserves the chance to experience the enjoyment and educational benefits which come from studying Classics. Join us in making this a reality." The charity – founded through a partnership between the organisations Friends of Classics and the Joint Association of Classical Teachers – aims to raise £200-250,000 per year for 10 years, which they reckon will mean they hit their target of converting 100 non-classical state secondary schools per year for 10 years into schools that teach Latin. According to Peter Jones, one of the classicists behind the campaign, "There are 3,000 state schools in this country without classics, and we want to reduce that number by 1,000 in 10 years." Since July, they have nearly reached their £200,000 target for the year and efforts are gathering pace.
The work will involve, said Jones, "Getting into schools and persuading them that classics is worth doing; and training up teachers to do a really good job." They will push outreach work - whether via local university classics departments or partnerships between local private and state schools, or volunteering. They will, they hope, build on the work of three phenomenally successful classics educational movements – the Cambridge Classics Course; Minimus (a primary-school Latin course); and the Iris Project, which encourages the learning of Latin and Greek in state schools in Hackney and Oxford [declaration of interest, I'm a patron of this last]. There's a head of steam behind this kind of thinking: here's a pamphlet for the thinktank Politeia by the Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, the lovely Chris Pelling, and Llewllyn Morgan, also an Oxford classicist, which lays out some arguments for learning Latin; while on Tuesday Politeia's Latin conference will be addressed by Nick Gibb MP, the minister for schools, as well as Pelling and Morgan.
All power to Classics for All. I'm a passionate believer in the value of classics. Learning Latin and Greek is the most enriching thing I've ever done. And everybody should get the chance to do it.
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