Plan to teach Latin in state schools ‘utterly misconceived’, says former head

The former independent school head criticised plans for the Latin Excellence Programme, saying there aren’t enough teachers to teach it, and it could take time away from modern foreign languages

A former independent school head has said the Government’s new £4m scheme to teach Latin in state schools in “utterly misconceived”.

On 31 July, education secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the Latin Excellence Programme would be rolled out in 40 secondary schools initially, with the aim of reversing Latin’s “reputation as an elitist subject”.

According to a British Council survey Latin is only taught at key stage 3 in 2.7% of state schools compared to 49% of independent schools.

While the programme has garnered support from Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, and Jimmy Mulville, chairman of Classics for All, the response from school leaders has not been as positive.

John Claughton led King Edward’s School for 10 years


John Claughton, former chief master at King Edward’s School and co-founder of The World of Languages and Languages of the World, argued that the project is “very small”.

He explained: “£4m over four years in 40 schools provides £25k for each school and 40 schools is 1% of the secondary schools in this country. It is utterly misconceived. There are no teachers to teach it – only four places in the country offer Latin PGCE – and there is no time in the timetable to deliver it, unless you steal time from other subjects, like MFL, which is thereby alienated.

“The reasons seem to be farcical. Is making Latin ‘less elitist’ a good enough reason for such an initiative? If it is part of the ‘levelling up agenda’ – ‘poor kids are going to get what posh kids get already’ – that cannot be a good enough reason for the project.”

Is making Latin ‘less elitist’ a good enough reason for such an initiative? – John Claughton, former head

He continued: “And it is not going to solve the problems of MFL, which are existential as Geoff Barton of ASCL has emphasised. Everything that is happening in language teaching from its frailty in junior schools to Brexit and the end of the Erasmus programme is negative.”

With the number of EAL pupils growing, Claughton suggested schools teach languages in a way which “relates to the richness and diversity of the pupils’ knowledge”.

He added: “This announcement has merely opened up the old wounds about rich and poor, privilege and deprivation, state and independent, Eton and Boris contra mundum, and Twitter is full of people saying how badly they were taught. In the end, it’s hard to think of anything that could have done more damage to Classics.”

In his announcement, Williamson said: “We know Latin has a reputation as an elitist subject which is only reserved for the privileged few. But the subject can bring so many benefits to young people, so I want to put an end to that divide.

“There should be no difference in what pupils learn at state schools and independent schools, which is why we have a relentless focus on raising school standards and ensuring all pupils study a broad, ambitious curriculum.”

Read more: The intelligent teaching of languages can address a number of key issues within the curriculum, says John Claughton

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