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The Association for Latin Teaching

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ARLT Newsletter 36: January 2007

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Dear Classical Friend,


I hope the new year has begun well for you. This Newsletter has three parts: an important question for all Classics teachers, which has been aired in JCT, the JACT/ArLT magazine; news from you - always a welcome part of the Newsletter; and what's new on line.


The burning question


A lot of discussion has taken place in the UK Classics world since November's Newsletter, and the nub of the matter is well summarised by Will Griffiths from CSCP:


Hi David,


It's certainly a good time for the Classics community to be trying to turn the tide. The government is genuinely keen to increase opportunities in schools, and the G+T, personalised learning and out-of-hours learning initiatives all work in our favour. Now or never!


All the best,


Will


The book Amo, amas, amat by Harry Mount brought Latin into the papers before Christmas. I found it a disappointment ('not much of a book' was the reaction of one reply on the ARLT Blog), but it raised, in a rather unhelpful way, a very important matter: Is Latin GCSE set at the right standard?


This may indeed be the one most important question that supporters of the Classics face. Let's just look at things as they are:


Latin is the hardest GCSE subject in which to get a good grade.

Numbers taking the subject are slipping year by year (apart from last year).

Schools are under pressure to show good GCSE results, leading to a bigger take-up of 'soft' subjects.

Faced with this, people take one of two attitudes:


Latin is a difficult subject. Reading Tacitus can never be made easy. It is inevitable that learning Latin properly will be open only to the brightest pupils. Therefore GCSE must not be 'dumbed down'; indeed, the subject should be marketed for its elitist value.

Learning some Latin is valuable to any pupil, for oft-rehearsed reasons: understanding how language works; developing clear thought; entering into our European heritage and so on. Therefore GCSE must not be set at a standard that discourages its take-up.

The first approach is favoured by Harry Mount. Some University Classicists and some teachers in independent schools go along with it also. The most vocal advocate of the second approach is Will Griffiths at Cambridge.


There is likely to be a revision of GCSE syllabuses fairly soon, and it is important that we teachers have thought the matter out, and have a well-defined and well-argued position, whatever that turns out to be. Since this is a decision which may well affect our own career prospects, as well as the whole future of Latin in our schools, I support the proposal that we should hold a series of regional meetings to air the question and, hopefully, come to a common mind.


If you have registered on the ARLT Blog to receive email notification of new messages posted there (and I do recommend this) you will be familiar with some of the arguments that have appeared there. One suggestion that appeals to me is to retain the present GCSE standard, but to make a Latin pass worth 2 ordinary GCSEs. That would recognise the intrinsic difficulty of the subject and also encourage schools to offer it, knowing that their league table showing would be enhanced.


If you agree that this is important, who should arrange the meetings? JACT? ARLT? Someone else?


All right, enough of this vital matter. On to your contributions.


From the Classics Community


From Peter Bird:


When I retired I had intended to take up some private tuition to keep my brain alive. Then I heard on the grapevine that the authorities were "reviewing the position of Latin in the school" because they did not want to employ new part-time staff (probably because they wanted to expand Media Studies and Drama ...). The Head of Latin suggested I should provide 4 hours of tuition a week (half of the GCSE and half of the A level),so I naturally agreed. We are trying to impress on the bosses that Latin is an essential part of the curriculum of an independent grammar school - particularly a Catholic one - and have put up a strong defence in its favour, but I daresay in the end fashionable trends may continue and 'soft' subjects take over, if only to keep the exam results at a high level. I think I'm required to continue next year, particularly as our GCSE numbers have gone up in Year 10 (22 candidates as opposed to a normal 8-10) and this will mean more wanting to take A level. Keep your fingers crossed for us!


I've attached the files I've written for our students on the first part of the Pro Milone (they're doing the Ovid option as well so will study the other chapters in English). I hope they will be of use. I may have overdone the comments on rhetorical devices, but I have always thought them very significant when studying Cicero.


Thanks again.


Peter


From Queen's College, London


Thank you for all the encouragement. I look forward to hearing more from you and others. I found the site when looking for Latin Christmas card ideas! Yes, we are lucky enough to have a supportive head and can offer all three subjects on timetable up to A2 level.


Best wishes


Lucy


From a home teacher


We are just getting started so I'll let you know how we go.


My eldest son is ten (the other two are only two) and has always been home-educated. We have a very informal approach to education, with lots of free play. (Like many home-educated children who follow this more 'autonomous' or 'unschooling' approach to learning, Charles didn't learn to read until he was ready to apply himself, around 8 or 9 years old.)


One of Charles's interests, probably like a lot of boys, is history and war. He has started learning Spanish and then I suddenly realised that it would be better to go back to the beginning (in my mind anyway) and learn latin. I feel it will give him a good basis for other languages, including English of course, as well as bringing in the more ancient history and literature that I think will appeal to him.


I am a graduate in French and Spanish who did a very simple Latin 'O' level back in the 1980s (Joint Matriculation Board; it seemed very undemanding compared with other, Cambridge, 'O' levels I'd done) so, as is the way with home education at times, I shall be learning along with Charles.


Thanks for your help.


Best regards

Caroline

New On Line


The For Teachers section of the ARLT website now has Peter Bird's notes on Cicero, that he mentioned in his letter (above). Thanks, Peter. There will soon be a clearer way of reaching the particular materials that you need, with the index for A Level being on a separate page.


The ARLT Blog now regularly overruns its transfer allocation, because so many files are being downloaded. I am therefore moving the audio files, which are big and so account for a lot of the transfer traffic, to another server. Eventually they will all be accessible from a single page on the ARLT website. In the meantime you may not be able to access them. Sorry about that. You can always get them on CD from Wilf O'Neill. The CDs are cheap, and they are of top sound quality. Larger picture are being moved to Photobucket.


You can find the full programme of the ARLT Refresher Day in Coventry (first Saturday in March) on the website now. I hope to be there. The subject is promoting Classics in state schools, very relevant to the matter I started with.


Do look once a month or so at the Classical Calendar on the ARLT website. The latest event to be added is the Northern Schools Classics Conference on April 12th at Stonyhurst.


Best wishes,


David