Latin is set to be returned to the school curriculum following an official review.
By Robert Winnett, Deputy Political Editor
Last Updated: 9:05AM GMT 27 Dec 2008
Ministers believe it is an "important subject" and may help school pupils to learn modern languages.
Fewer than 15 per cent of state schools teach Latin and the number of qualified teachers is falling.
However, the Department for Education is understood to be considering adding Latin to the new Languages diploma, which will run alongside GCSEs and A-levels from next year. Baroness Morgan, the schools minister, has indicated that the Government wishes to see Latin regain its status as an important language. She said it was "an important subject and valuable for supporting pupils' learning of modern languages". She added that the Language Diploma Development Partnership was "considering the place of Latin".
Well-placed sources said that the language was expected to be reinstated as an official curriculum language next year.
Baroness Morgan made the comments in response to calls from another Labour peer, Lord Faulkner of Worcester who said it helped students to learn other languages. "Each year, 35 new Latin teachers are trained but over 60 are leaving the profession,'' he said. "Isn't it time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and was given the same encouragement as other languages?" Over the past 20 years, the teaching of Latin has rapidly declined in state schools and classicists have predicted that it could disappear altogether in the next decade.
In 1988, 16,023 students were entered for GCSE, with 53 per cent from state schools. However, since 2000 only about 10,000 pupils annually have entered for GCSE Latin, with only 37 per cent from the state sector. Lady Morgan said that the number of younger children studying Latin had already risen sharply over the past decade following Government investment in computer software and other teaching tools. There are only two teacher-training courses in Latin, at Cambridge University and King's College London. Therefore, the number of Latin teachers is falling rapidly as staff retire.
Bob Lister, a lecturer in classics education at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC: "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."
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." Meanwhile, peers have also asked to be given access to Latin lessons in the House of Lords. Baroness O'Cathain, a Conservative peer, asked for Latin courses to be added a list of 10 modern languages on offer to peers.