Many have been in uproar at the announcement that the government will be prioritising funding for Latin teaching in state schools in a bid to reduce elitism.
Boris Johnson, an Eton-educated and Oxford Classics graduate, might think this as a great way of ensuring social mobility, but unfortunately for him, this move almost worsens the divide in our society.
Learning Latin isn’t the issue here. It’s not what sets private schools and state schools apart. It definitely doesn’t help, but the way to improve the differences between state and private schools would be to instead fund the subjects already in state schools. Which the Tories fail to do.
Recent cuts include teacher training, where PGCE funding for Arts, English and Humanities (to name a few) have been totally slashed in favour of science subjects and Classics (a subject mainly taught at private schools as already clarified).
Modern Foreign Languages are few and far between, no thanks to Brexit, as German is removed from many class syllabuses, leaving only the languages of French and Spanish on offer. No Russian, Italian, or Chinese at all.
Regional differences are even worse. Whilst some Southern state or grammar schools do offer subjects such as Classics for GCSE and A Level, in the North it’s different.
Only recently did a Leeds state school become the first to teach Classics in the entire city. It’s unsurprising since the funding for schools in the North is constantly being cut, as Beep has reported previously.
Funding will therefore be prioritised for compulsory subjects such as Science, English and Maths instead.
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For many, Latin seems outdated and unnecessary. And it kind of is, in comparison to modern languages that are used often, or subjects such as Religious Studies. Uptake will likely remain small, leaving this part of the budget spent on an unnecessary subject.
The Tory government have created a culture war in this decision and evidenced that they do not understand class barriers.
Teaching Latin will not aid social mobility. Funding for this subject will overpower others at state schools whilst private schools can afford to teach both Latin and Modern Foreign Languages.
If Latin is available at GCSE, it also probes the question as to whether complementing courses such as Classics, Ancient Greek, Ethics or Philosophy will be added to the curriculum of these schools. If not, taking Latin at schools in lower socioeconomic areas will cause even smaller progress for working-class students.
So, subjects will worsen as Latin takes up space in the timetable, funding and teaching. Instead, subjects could be given more funding that will aid students, and apprenticeships could become more of a focus.
I say this as someone who would have benefited massively from the teaching of Latin. I got to Durham University with zero knowledge of it, only to find that other students from private school backgrounds were fluent, or had at least a firm understanding.
It marked me as stupid and I felt very out of place in tutorials that discussed works such as The Odyssey and The Iliad.
In fact, an English tutor told a friend from a background similar to mine that the two modules at university taught in our first year, English Language and Classical and Biblical Backgrounds, was to “help state schools students catch up with their peers” by having a basic understanding of these core texts not taught in our schools.
Yes, it would be amazing for Latin to be taught at state schools to create freedom of opportunity to study a wide range of subjects. But this is just a ploy by the same government that has cut funding for humanities subjects.
Latin won’t aid social mobility or solve class divisions. Instead, increased funding for schools would, especially in disadvantaged areas: money for libraries, extra-curricular activities, breakfast clubs, theatre props, school journalism opportunities.
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Overall, what would truly solve the issue of class separation and difference is not the teaching of Latin. It’s the abolishment of private schools.
Only then can social equality be truly achieved.