Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I did think briefly of making my opening remarks in Latin, but I desisted for two reasons. First, as a distinctly lapsed classicist—despite having studied Latin for at least 15 years and Greek for over 10—I am ashamed to say that my Latin would no longer be up to the task. Secondly, addressing your Lordships as “O Senatores” might take this debate into areas beyond its proper boundaries.
I sought this debate because I myself have benefitted enormously from the opportunities I had to study classics, which I take to include Latin, Greek, ancient history and classical civilisation. I would like to extend such opportunities much more widely. In preparing for the debate, I have been greatly helped by briefing materials provided by Peter Jones, that princeps or primus inter pares of classicists. I nearly said éminence grise, which would have been inappropriate. He is a leading light of the charities Classics for All and Friends of Classics; some of your Lordships might be familiar with his Ancient and Modern column in the Spectator. I was also helped by the excellent briefing pack put together at short notice by Venetia Thompson of the House of Lords Library. I am grateful to noble Lords who plan to speak and much look forward to hearing what they say. I thank them for their patience in coping with the unpredictable timing of business in this place.
I will seek to make three points: that classics is important; that it should be offered in more, preferably most, schools; and that Government should actively support that aim, including by providing for appropriate qualifications and examinations systems and ensuring an adequate supply of trained teachers.
First, to adapt the old Guinness ad, “Classics is good for you”. Surely there can be no other subject area offering such a breadth of learning opportunity and interest encompassing language, literature, history, philosophy, art, technology, culture and others. Latin and Greek are not only helpful in learning languages in general; they can be invaluable aids to improving grammar and vocabulary in our own language, English. Some 60% of English words are estimated to have Greek or Latin roots. In the vocabulary of the sciences, that figure rises to over 90%. As highly inflected languages, with all those conjugations, declensions, cases, tenses, moods, voices and so on—never forgetting the ablative absolute—Latin and Greek are invaluable routes to learning intellectual discipline and logic. My own former skills—in debugging complex programming code as a systems analyst at IBM—owed much to my training in classical languages. The chairman of IBM UK in my later years there, Sir Anthony Cleaver, was himself a classicist.
One only has to list some of those who have gone on from studying classics to distinguished careers to recognise the breadth of opportunities it can open: Mary Beard, Colin Dexter, Stephen Fry, Ian Hislop, JK Rowling, Tom Stoppard, Fay Weldon, and PG Wodehouse. In your Lordships' House—indeed, in this very room in some cases—we have the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, the noble Lord, Lord Waldegrave of North Hill, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, and others. Last year, London was fortunate enough to have both a mayor and a lord mayor who were classicists.
In 2011, Friends of Classics conducted a survey of almost 2,200 people who had studied classics. Well over 80% of them supported classics being taught in schools; over half saw classics as useful or very useful for their own area of work—for example by enhancing language skills, breadth of understanding, and thinking and reasoning skills. Sixty-eight per cent of them thought that studying classics had helped them personally. Perhaps most striking of all, no less than 81% believed their own quality of life had benefited—a view which I wholly endorse.
Secondly, classics is good for schools. Currently, about 70% of independent schools teach classics, but only about 25% of state schools—in many cases mainly to their more talented students. State schools often face problems of timetabling classics lessons and finding staff able or willing to teach it. Despite that, three-quarters of state school classics teachers would like to increase the numbers studying classics and 47% of state schools without any classics teaching would try introducing classics subjects if offered small grants to do so—of the order of £5,000 over three years. The number of state schools which have started Latin in the past 10 years, using the Cambridge Schools Classics Project e-Latin initiative, is over 500.
Burntwood School for Girls in Tooting, despite specialising in science, not only offers Latin to its students, but last year added Ancient Greek as an extended curriculum offering in years 9 and 10. Some 250 girls are doing Latin and 30 girls have now started working towards a GCSE in Greek. This has been achieved largely through the appointment of a single classics teacher, Sarah Brack, and in a school where some 60 languages are spoken at home and 20% of students are eligible for free school meals. Yet its exam performance puts it in the top 10% of non-selective schools in England.
If more schools like Burntwood are to start teaching classics, they need to be confident that appropriate qualifications and examination systems are in place to support them. I congratulate the Government on the fact that Latin, Greek and ancient history are all included in the English baccalaureate, although the number of boards offering them is small. On the GCSE front, the withdrawal of AQA's Latin GCSE exams in 2006 led to a fall in the number of candidates nationally. However, the introduction of a new Latin exam by the Welsh Joint Education Committee in 2010, despite not having full GCSE status, resulted in a significant increase in candidates, from 8,500 to 12,000.
The Government plan to move to a system with only one examination board for any subject. This could present a real challenge for specialist subjects like classics, where there is a wide variation in the needs and attainments of students: for example, between those who study Latin for GCSE for up to 500 hours at independent schools with a long tradition of teaching classics, and those who have no more than 120-140 hours of teaching at a state school new to the subject. If there is to be only one board, the Government should ensure that it can offer examinations with the flexibility to cater for these different needs, without loss of rigour.
Finally, the most crucial factor in successfully teaching classics, as with other subjects, is the quality of the teachers themselves. There must be an adequate supply of properly-trained classics teachers. At present, there is a net loss of something between six and 26 specialist trained classics teachers every year, despite the interest of schools, parents, students and others in increasing the numbers studying the subject.
The various bodies dedicated to promoting classics teaching are actively working on alternative ways of addressing this challenge. For example, they are looking at developing “bolt-on” classical modules for PGCEs, so that someone studying to teach modern languages or history would also receive a month or so of classics training to offer schools employing them the basic skills needed to try out classical subjects. For teachers already in schools, mentoring and support services could be offered to enable them to start classics courses.
Initiatives like these cost money, and the classics bodies have a strong record of coming up with funds to support their subjects. But the Government could help to achieve a great deal more, and to bring the benefits of classics teaching to a much wider range of state students. They might offer small grants to encourage schools to take the first steps into classics teaching: perhaps a few thousand pounds, possibly in the form of matched funding for money raised by the schools themselves. They should ensure that there are suitable exams in place to recognise the achievements of schools and their students in classics subjects; and they must take steps to halt the current downward trend of qualified classics teachers. I look forward to hearing the suggestions of other noble Lords on how the Government could help.
Noble Lords may recall Winston Churchill's statement that,
“I would make them all”—
that is school children, and I am afraid I cannot do Sir Winston’s voice—
“learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat”.
I would argue that he was wrong. I prefer to end with a 19th century quote from the Reverend Thomas Gaisford, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, my own former college:
“Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument”.
I strongly endorse his recommendation, and would add that even without the considerable emolument, which I regret I have failed to attain, classics teaching offers incalculable benefits not just to those lucky enough to receive it, but to the wider communities in which they live and indeed to the UK as a whole. For that reason the Government should do all that they can to promote, extend and support it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord and I thank him for securing this debate and for the delightful speech that he has made to introduce the topic. I, too, am a great lover of Latin, in particular, and I owe a lifetime debt to my big sister, who was a Cambridge classicist. She introduced me to Latin for Today: Book One a year before anyone else in my class had begun to study it, so that I was able to shine throughout my first year. That ensured that Latin has always been one of my favourite subjects.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord in his analysis of what is needed in terms of teaching and the teachers who are capable of inspiring and enthralling the young. However, I want to celebrate our success stories and how good it is that Latin is now increasing in popularity not only in independent schools, as seen by the number of young people who are taking it. As the noble Lord has said, in the past 10 years, more than 500 state secondary schools have started Latin for the first time. The previous Government are greatly to be commended for their e-course initiative with its videoconferencing and mentoring for teachers, which made a great leap forward in the popularity of the subject.
The UK has a world beater in the Cambridge Latin course. It sells more than any other classics course in the world. The Cambridge School Classics Project has given about £1 million of its profits to promote the teaching of Latin in state schools. The coalition initiative put Latin on a par with modern languages and that has helped to fuel the expansion. Secondary schools have, as I said, found that Latin and Greek are increasingly popular and that they help with the understanding of grammar and of English words and spelling. One reason why I believe that classics is so enormously helpful to young people is that it teaches them about sentence structure and so helps them to think much more clearly. It also helps them with their appalling spelling.
Another great success story is the expansion of the teaching of Latin in primary schools, which I wholly support and think is wonderful. In London alone the Iris Project, with the mayor, Boris Johnson, has started the Love Latin project in schools. Already, 200 primary schools in London alone are enjoying that programme. Teachers say that it is engaging children who, in other ways, are quite hard to reach.
For me, Minimus is the real hero of primary school Latin. Minimus is a mouse who lives with a family in Vindolanda in the Roman Britain of 100AD. He lives in the family with the fort commander’s wife and their three children. They also have a cat but, most importantly, they have Minimus who becomes a hero of the primary syllabus. He apparently has won so many friends among young children that the popularity of the Minimus course is spreading to the point where it has sold 140,000 copies throughout the United Kingdom. I am happy to say that the equivalent for ancient Greek—whether it will be a mouse or another animal, I do not know—is now being developed.
I will close with some quotes from teachers and pupils about the Minimus course. One teacher said: “There are such brilliant stories in the classics and it is so good to be able to introduce children to them”. A pupil said: “Latin helps me with writing in literary classes”. Above all, there was the pupil who said, “You learn to deal with words. You can’t talk to an ancient Roman with gestures and smiles. The language is all there is”.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, must be congratulated on introducing this debate. He failed to mention one of the most distinguished classicists in the Room, who was my former law tutor at Cambridge. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, not only carried away first-class honours in the first part of the tripos but won the ancient and much revered Sir William Browne gold medal in 1951, for, I think, an ode in the style of Sappho. That feat did not prevent him getting first-class honours with distinction in part two of the law tripos. I am afraid that I was a student of baser metal. Indeed, my director of studies, Professor Edward Kenney of Peterhouse, the professor of Latin in the university, advised me at the end of an undistinguished part one to read something else, which is how I came under the control of my noble and learned friend, Lord Lloyd.
It was asked then and still is: what is the point of a classical education? For me, it is the source of those generous liberal values which have from time to time leavened the culture and civilisation of Europe and the West. On common humanity across millennia, I have always been tickled by Homer’s tale that old men love to talk of their deeds of valour in past battles. Anyone who has ever played rugby will know that when two or three old rugby players get together over a pint of beer, they talk about their past battles. As to love, Hector’s farewell to Andromache and his son—to fight a battle that he did not desire but had, for the sake of honour, to endure—touches us to the heart. The fall of sacred Troy, the death of his father and his brothers and his own predicted end at the hands of Achilles meant nothing compared with the pain he felt that his wife would be sold into slavery and that those who saw her would weep and say:
“That woman is Hector’s wife”.
On fidelity, Argus, Odysseus’s dog, was cast out on to a heap of dung. He was covered with fleas and the only creature to recognise Odysseus as he returned to Ithaca from his travels. Argus lifted his ears and wagged his tail but was too weak to get up from the pile of dung. Homer tells us that as Odysseus departed:
“Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years”.
We touch people over that period of time—3,000 years—and common humanity is there.
Then there were the beginnings of democracy in Athens in the golden period with an assembly open to all citizens, regardless of wealth or class. It had an executive council chosen by lot, which, as your Lordships know, is a solution sometimes proposed for this House. There was justice by the verdict of one’s peers, the creation of the jury and courts composed of jurors drawn from the older citizens, who heard cases without the intervention of judges or lawyers—those who buzzed, as Aristophanes put it in “The Wasps”. There was the defiance of unjust law, told by Sophocles in the story of Antigone, whose loyalty to her brother led her to defy the edicts of the tyrant Creon. This is where drama was born; not just drama but comedy, poetry, Greek sculpture and architecture, which gave inspiration to the Renaissance and permeates the whole of our own civilisation. There were the philosophers, Socrates and Plato, who laid down the foundations of the philosophy that we share.
Romans were concerned with more mundane matters: belief in their right to rule over a lesser humanity; the exercise of power; law and order; dominion, with the spreading of boundaries “wider still and wider”—there was something of the Conservatives about them, one tends to feel. However, we learn much from the fate of the Roman empire when the Visigoths broke down the gates of Rome.
I heard at the weekend that my grandchild is taking up the study of Latin. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is right: it is all down to inspirational teachers. I was fortunate in having two inspirational teachers in my state school, Frederick Rowlands and Mr Noel Jones. They inspired me to appreciate my place in the world and the fact that humanity is the same now as it was then. These are values that I hope will continue to be maintained.
My Lords, I am sure that I speak for everyone in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for this inspirational occasion to talk about classics. However, I am not going to do that. I am going to talk about Latin and linguistic considerations, but nobody who has heard the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, speak could fail to weep with recognition of the excitements that there are in classical literature.
I am sure that I am not alone in judging our colleagues on the Bishops' Benches by the way that they read the Parliament prayer. The Parliament prayer, as everybody here knows, contains at its core an ablative absolute: “we … laying aside” and then it goes on until the words “partial affections”. The bishops who know Latin properly know that you have to pause after “grant that”; then comes the ablative absolute; then it goes on with what is being asked for, which is that our deliberations should have good effect. If you do not know that it is an ablative absolute, you make absolute nonsense of the grammar and the syntax of the prayer. That is my criterion of what is a good bishop, or archbishop.
I believe that the study of Latin is unique in that it gives one a feeling of the sense of the structure of a sentence, its syntax. I do not think that Greek, although it is a wonderful language, is quite as good as an instrument of learning about language as Latin is. Latin is indescribably clear and moreover small children, youngish children in primary school, love learning Latin because it is in the nature of code-breaking; there are certain rules and you can apply them to the sentence in front of you. You can get it right or you can get it wrong and that is of enormous attraction to children when learning. It is better, in some ways, than a modern language because it can be taught in its purest form—it is formal in the purest sense—and you do not have to be inhibited by pronunciation, accent or keeping up with slang. You do not have to learn how to ask the way to the station or how to get on a bus. It is there without the necessity of speech. It is to do with writing. Of course, that affects the way one speaks but it is essentially the written word. I believe that there is no profession—not just that of journalists and writers—where one does not need to be able to write coherently, clearly and in a way that is persuasive. The utility of learning the structure of sentences and their syntax is therefore without compare.
For about 20 years, I have been setting a paper and examining it for an essay competition for the Girls’ Day School Trust—it covers about 25 schools. There is the most enormous difference in the essays that I read, of which there are about 220 every year, between those girls who can write proper sentences and those who cannot. Even if their ideas are exciting or interesting, if they cannot write proper sentences then I cast away the essay. Over the 20 years, I have noticed a very severe decline in this ability. Largely, it is connected with the way that children communicate with one another through blogs and various kinds of electronic devices, which have changed the language. They can no longer distinguish between informal and formal writing: the kind of writing which they will need if they become civil servants, politicians, lawyers or doctors. They will all need to be able to write, so I recommend very much the use of formal Latin teaching. Also, as I have said, children greatly enjoy that kind of formal teaching.
Although I would hope that many of the people who learnt Latin at school would go on to study classics, ancient history or Greek or even classical studies—although I have never been quite sure what that actually embraces—Latin on its own is nevertheless infinitely worth teaching. I am delighted that there is this movement towards teaching it. As for finding the teachers who are able to do it, there is much to be said for the suggestion of the bolt-on to the modern language training course, as there is for someone who is already in the school—perhaps a modern linguist or an historian—teaching themselves Latin as they go along. If children can learn it, so can the teacher. It would be great fun, when teaching, to go along one step ahead of your class in North and Hillard, or whatever the appropriate Latin book now is. I hope that this will gather weight and that the Minister can assure us that the Government are behind this and see the point of it.
My Lords, I want to draw attention to the common cause between modern and ancient languages. A joint meeting a couple of years ago of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages, which I chair, and the group on classics noted that Latin automatically offers the integration of language, literature and culture that teachers of modern languages are also trying to achieve. I am sure the same goes for Greek. When I started Latin aged 11—in the same class, incidentally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, who has been referred to—we had a dynamic young teacher who taught us as though it were a modern language. For the first few weeks, no English was spoken in our classes. We learnt it by speaking it, as well as through the rigours of grammar and by writing. That certainly fuelled my interest in modern languages and when I spent my gap year in Spain, having done no Spanish at school, it was thanks to eight years of Latin much more than to eight years of French that I became fluent in Spanish after only a couple of months. It is generally acknowledged that Latin provides a strong foundation for learning all Romance languages.
I get cross when people say that Latin is dead. We do not go a day without hearing or using words like media, video, referendum or agenda; phrases like quid pro quo, pro bono, bona fides, mea culpa; or even abbreviations like et cetera, eg, or ie. Some people are quite surprised to discover that they are speaking Latin. Some would argue that we do not need to learn a modern language either, as English is enough. This is not true, of course, although this is not the debate in which to explain why. What is relevant is the evidence showing that learning languages, whether classical or modern, improves oracy and literacy in English too. That is one reason why modern languages have been so enthusiastically welcomed by primary school teachers, and why the Minimus resource for primary school Latin has been so popular.
Another criticism of classics is that it is elitist, and the Government should pay special attention to this. Again, there is a parallel with modern languages. In state schools only about 40% of pupils take a modern language GCSE now that they are optional after age 14. In the independent sector, it is about 90%. I am sure that a similar breakdown applies to Latin and Greek. I expect that the Minister will tell us that the EBacc will come riding to the rescue, and I readily acknowledge that it has led to some improvement. However, the Government must do more if they want to achieve their aim of closing what they have called “the vast gulf” between state and independent schools. Nearly half of state schools say that they are not improving their language offer at all as a result of the EBacc. Surely it would be a win-win initiative to complement the EBacc with a languages-for-all policy, effectively restoring compulsory languages, whether ancient or modern, for all children up to age 16. Without this, all languages, but especially the classical ones, will remain the elitist preserve of the independent sector. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the Government are still open to restoring compulsory languages to age 16.
Languages are not just for the bright ones or the top set. Children of all abilities can learn, love and benefit from doing Latin, just as they can from doing French. They should be doing it in the mainstream timetable, too, and not in the lunch hour or in after-school clubs. There has been an interesting proposal from the charity Classics for All to help boost the supply of teachers, which is that a one-month classical element could be bolted on to all modern language PGCE courses. This is worth looking at and I am interested in the Minister's views.
We risk a lot if we let classics go from schools. In the words of Professor Mary Beard, in a lecture she gave last year,
“it would be impossible now to understand Dante without Virgil, John Stuart Mill without Plato, Donna Tartt without Euripides, Rattigan without Aeschylus …. if we were to amputate the classics from the modern world, it would mean more than closing down some university departments and consigning Latin grammar to the scrap heap. It would mean bleeding wounds in the body of Western culture”.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for introducing this debate. It was also a pleasure to hear from a fellow Peterhouse classicist. If Professor Ted Kenney was not happy with him then, he certainly would be now.
It is 53 years since I was introduced to Kennedy’s Latin primer—or Kennedy’s eating primer, since some assiduous boy had altered every front cover at my school. Forbidding though the fruit may have seemed at first, the eating of it ever since has been a pleasure and a delight. As others have said, a classical education needs no other justification than the pleasure it gives. It opens a window into the mindset that has created or informed some of the greatest achievements of art, literature, architecture and music, not just in classical times, but over all the centuries of civil education until, I regret to say, the modern, vandalistic and often deliberate sundering with all that was beautiful and good in the past culture of European nations.
I think it matters, too, at the individual level. If you are in a country church and see the carved memorial of a talented young woman who died from consumption in the neoclassical 1820s or, perhaps, the proud epitaph of a rather unsuccessful Venetian admiral, you can—if you know Latin—cross the wall of death and enter the world of that person. If you know no Latin, they lie dead and cold for ever. Not a week goes by without my reading or using Latin. I regret not a moment of that and I certainly, as the noble Baroness said, do not regret the discipline and precision of expression that comes from it.
Abbott and Mansfield followed a few years later—and the beautifully flexible Greek language has given me equal pleasure. I was probably one of the last who went through the university tripos, translating and writing prose and poetry both ways. I am not going to venture to be torn like Cinna the poet by this intelligent Committee by trying some of my verses on you, my Lords.
We recently did a straw poll of local secondary schools. Almost all the independent schools offer classics; of the state schools, two established academies offer none and the other offers Latin from year 7. Of the maintained schools, one offered no classics; neither did the second. It believed there was no demand for it. Two others do offer extracurricular Latin and each has about 30 takers at key stage 3. The last one sends four year 10s to a local independent school to study Greek.
I am sure that this mixed picture is fairly typical and I make no criticism of those that do not offer classics. Overexpansion of the curriculum did have an impact; I know that my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford is addressing this and I support him. I urge him, as he reforms what is taught, not to fall under the influence of those with a utilitarian delusion that what is taught is a school for work, not a school for life.
I have one final thought. In taking classics to fresh places, let us please not fight shy of the critical place of grammar, as the noble Baroness said, in the name of accessibility. All my children were offered Latin; the first worked to greats at Oxford; the second to A-level; the third fell by the wayside at GCSE. When I asked her why, she said that she was bored with the discovery method of learning used to try to work out what the ending “amus” meant for herself, when her brothers had learned their “amo, amas, amat” in a day and have remembered it ever since. Ironically, she would have preferred to have been taught like them. Therefore, let us not neglect the essential foundations of grammar, which, as others have said, equip us to confront so many languages, including that poor mauled old thing that is our own language.
Finally, will the Clerk of the Parliaments help us? Can we please have some Latin back on the business of the day?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and congratulate him on instigating this debate. I join with him in recognising the extraordinary work of Peter Jones, without whom I do not think we would be here. I do not think there would have been a revival of classics without Peter Jones; he is a remarkable human being. I think I am a vice-president of whatever it is he runs and I should declare that interest. I agree with everything that has been said, so I am not going to repeat it. Where else can you learn the basics of comparative philosophy, literature and history in one go—and the basis of our civilisation? It is the only way, so take that as read.
I want to make two much more banal, practical points addressing government. First, this is cheap. My other obsession with schools is reintroducing musical education into schools—that is expensive. I had a modest part to play in the financing of Minimus; that was not expensive. Organising the kind of teacher training and the serving up of Latin and Greek—Mansfield and all in schools—is not expensive in the big scheme of things.
Secondly, I buy everything that the noble Lord, Lord True, has said, but I am unapologetically going to argue the utilitarian, vocational case. I am fed up with people saying, “Well, it’s jolly nice but it’s over there. It’s not very vocational, as though it were nuclear physics or medicine”. From my experience—and I am afraid that I am going to talk about my experience—I found it vocationally very important to me.
Bear with me if I say that most of my life has been spent setting up things—enterprises for profit and a lot not for profit. What do you need if you are going to do that? First, you need rigour, intelligence and the ability to analyse—there are no two ways about it. Secondly, you need resilience. Thirdly, you need creative resourcefulness in a tight corner, because you get into tight corners whether you are in a for-profit business or, as I am at the moment, a large mental health charity. What do you think doing a Latin unseen is about? It is about bashing your head with pure a priori logic against what is happening. I am sure that all previous speakers had no problems in getting Latin unseens out, but when you are up against it, boy, you need resilience—there are 30 minutes to go and you are panicking. Fourthly, when you are five minutes from the end and you have not got it out, you need outstanding intelligent creativity to produce something that might fool the examiner. Many a true word is spoken in jest, but I have found that grounding extremely helpful and useful.
I would argue everything else, but I just look down the Table at the Minister to say that the facts are clear: a revival is going on; it has not cost very much; to keep it going will not cost very much; and it is fundamentally useful for our children. Finally, in the briefing papers I read the astonishing statistic that 70% to 80% of private schools teach classics, whereas the figure for maintained schools is a small minority. The private schools, I regret to say, are not doing it out of cultural wisdom; they are doing it for fundamentally utilitarian reasons.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for giving your Lordships this chance to speak up for the classics. I am particularly pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, whose son read classics at my college under my care with great success and distinction.
For years after I ceased to be a classical student, I feared that Latin and Greek were dying as areas of study. It therefore came as a great, but extremely encouraging, surprise to me to be told when I returned to Oxford that—this may surprise your Lordships—more students were studying classical-related studies today than at any time in Oxford’s history. That is extraordinary, especially since during most of its history there was nothing else that you could study. The university is, of course, much bigger today, but even so that is an encouraging statistic.
The truth is that, perhaps surprisingly, the demand for classical studies exceeds the supply, especially, I am afraid, in the state sector. As has been pointed out, although it is greatly to the credit of the Government to have included Latin, Greek and ancient history in their EBacc proposals, they are not making sufficient provision for training teachers in classics to replace those who are retiring. Yet, as has also been said, those state schools that have introduced Latin in particular have found that the children love it.
Last week, I had the great joy of taking a 14 year-old grandson on a tour of the great classical sites of Turkey and of witnessing his reaction—time even better spent than time in this House. My grandson, however, has a great advantage. He is at a private school. He can go where his academic inclinations and talents lead him and he will get the necessary support. In this, as in other areas, we should be working to make sure that all children have similar opportunities.
The eloquence with which noble Lords have spoken in this debate makes a sufficient case for the classics in itself and, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I will not add to it. However, one other thought occurred to me as I was going round Turkey. It does not need me to remind your Lordships that the Middle East is a crucible where so many of the issues affecting the future peace of our world will be resolved. The history of the Middle East goes very deep—back to classical times and before. I believe that many of the wrong decisions taken in recent years have been taken because of a lack of deep understanding and knowledge of the region—another reason for teaching classical history.
We have every reason to be grateful to organisations such as the Friends of Classics, Classics for All, and, although it goes against the grain for me to praise any Cambridge initiative, the Cambridge School Classics Project. They have done great work in supplementing the Government’s support for the classics. We know that government resources are limited, but I hope that the Minister will tell us that, where it is in the Government’s power to support the classics at little or no cost—with examples of where that can be done and where constraints can be removed—they will remove obstacles in the way of those who seek to promote the learning of classics.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for initiating this debate and giving us the opportunity to listen to many interesting and informed contributions this afternoon—all passionately in favour and convinced of the benefits of having the opportunity to learn an ancient language or study classical culture. I share that passion. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study Latin, despite going to a state school and coming from a very working-class background in which no one had any idea about the classics. None the less, and despite having a teacher unlike that of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, called Mr Durden, who was very much like his name, he did not put me off and I came to love Latin.
I share the views expressed this afternoon about the benefits that spill over into other areas of activity and study. In my case, I have no doubt that the logical thinking, the accurate application of rules and structure, and so on, helped me in my subsequent university-level studies, which were not in the arts but in science. Like the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I think that there is great crossover in the skills gained from classical languages into science and technology. As the excellent briefing reminded us, we perhaps all agree with the classic comment by Dawkins that what classics has always done is to teach people fundamentally how to think.
Obviously, over recent years, there have been many impediments to sustaining the teaching of classics. We are all concerned about the disparity that exists between private schools and the state sector, with many children in state education, unlike me, not having the opportunity to study classics. The removal of classics from the matriculation requirement of some of our major universities some years ago was significant, leading to fewer schools teaching the subject, fewer teachers being able to teach the subject and the Training and Development Agency for Schools, I understand—the Minister will correct me if this is not still the case—putting a cap on the number of teachers each year who can be trained for the postgraduate teaching certificate to teach Latin and Greek.
It is remarkable that, despite that rather hostile environment, the classics are clearly having a renaissance. There is clearly demand, including in the state sector, for the opportunity to study classics. The charity Classics for All, as the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare, Lord Stevenson, and others, have said, has played a major role in that. We have seen considerable evidence of some schools being innovative in experimenting with how they can provide classics teaching by joining together, providing after-school tuition and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, introducing primary school children to the classics, which is excellent. The stimulation of online resources, the e-course which the noble Baroness mentioned, and the Cambridge School Classics Project have also been very important.
Could the Government do more—arguably, by including ancient languages, at least, in the English baccalaureate? The Government have done more for classics, at least the languages, than they have for some other subjects, but there are still big issues about the supply of teachers, not having a comprehensive examination system and addressing the disparity that we have all mentioned with state schools. However, at least the Government have given their support in that way to the classics. If the Committee will indulge me, I wish that they had also done so for contemporary arts, culture and music, which we are now seeing disappearing from our schools because they are not included in the new performance management system, which is the English baccalaureate.
My Lords, I should probably start with a declaration of an interest: I am not a classicist. That will become evident as my comments unfold, as I shall clearly not be able to demonstrate all the qualities and attributes that a classical training would have endowed on me had I not been a mere historian.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for giving us the opportunity for this debate, not least for assembling the formidable brain power which has been assembled here and which has entertained us with a range of observations. He set out a compelling case for teaching classics in schools, a case that other noble Lords endorsed and, in many ways, amplified. We heard how the classics help to develop an understanding of English grammar and vocabulary, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, argued; how they help with mastering modern European languages, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, explained; and how they help to instil more disciplined ways of thinking that benefit children in other subjects.
When I had my own very small business, I was always interested in job applicants who had read classics because I knew that the chances were that they would be able to think logically, to write well, to express themselves clearly and to bring a different perspective. I agree very much with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, about the merits of a classical education from a utilitarian point of view as well. For people who think that the classics are dated, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, told us of his experience of debugging programs for IBM. The other day, I read that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, that modern communications phenomenon, was a classicist. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I think, talked about the considerable emolument that would be derived—and he has made more than £10 billion, which constitutes a considerable emolument.
There are good practical reasons for children to study the classics, but we should not rest solely on the utilitarian argument that classics are good because they will help young people to get a job or to do better in other subjects. I agree with my noble friend Lord True on that. We should argue for education as being a good in itself. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford reminded us that the power of the classics is timeless. We should want our children to have a window into a different world, to be thrilled or moved by the Greek myths, to be astonished by the achievements of the Greeks and Romans and to see how much we still owe to them today. Nor do I subscribe to the notion—the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, made this point forcefully—that classics are somehow elitist and that they cannot have any relevance to children from poor backgrounds. It is patronising in the extreme to suggest that children on free school meals or who live in inner cities are not able to study Latin or that it is not relevant to their lives.
Like other noble Lords, I feel strongly that we should want the benefits of learning classics to be extended more widely. Yet, as we have heard, whereas 60% of independent schools were teaching Latin in 2011, the figure for state secondary schools was only 14%. For Greek, not surprisingly perhaps, the situation was even starker: 37% of independent schools were teaching Greek but only 1% of state schools were. So as my noble friend Lady Perry said, it is excellent news—and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, on this—that there is a growing number of examples of state schools, primaries and secondaries, in some of the poorest parts of the country giving their pupils the chance to learn Latin and to learn about the ancient world. The Iris Project, which is led by classics departments in some of our leading universities, is taking Latin into inner-city primary schools in London and Oxford, and I think now in Liverpool and south Wales. Independent schools such as JAGS, Tonbridge, St Paul’s and King’s College, Wimbledon, are working with local primary and secondary schools to inspire an interest in Latin. My noble friend Lady Perry reminded us about the Minimus course and the fact that it has sold some 140,000 copies. We have also heard about the Mayor of London’s Love Latin initiative, which should reach 200 schools this year. Academies such as the ARK-sponsored Burlington Danes offer students the chance to study Latin and two European languages.
I have been particularly struck by the example of the West London Free School, one of our first free schools, which is consciously offering a classical liberal education. This comprehensive school has one-quarter of its children on free school meals. It has decided to make Latin compulsory at key stage 3—that is, up to the age of 14. It has drawn up its own curriculum and hired outstanding teachers from the independent sector to help to deliver it. It has, incidentally, been able to do that by virtue of the freedoms that academy status gives them—namely, freedom over the curriculum and freedom to employ good teachers from a wider range of walks of life. So convinced is it of the benefits of what it is doing and the impact on its pupils that it is setting up a local south-west London branch of its Classical Association. Its approach seems popular with parents, as it has just had nine applicants for every place.
We have heard this afternoon about a number of initiatives, many of which were prompted by the excellent organisation Classics for All, which certainly is reigniting an interest in the classics in state schools. Rightly the question put was: what are the Government doing to help to support that revival? Alternatively, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, put it, one may ask whether there are any constraints that the Government can help to overcome.
The first point that I should make is that our overall approach is a permissive one. We want schools to have more freedom to decide what they teach. We have pursued that goal in two main ways. First, we are seeking to slim down the national curriculum for all schools, making it less prescriptive and leaving more time for schools to make their own judgments about what and how to teach and, in the context of today’s debate, freeing them up to teach classics.
Secondly, and of growing significance, academies do not have to follow the national curriculum. They have the freedom to develop a curriculum that they think best meets the needs of their pupils. More than half of all secondaries are now academies or on the way to becoming one and they have those freedoms. That number is going up the whole time. As I said, those academies also have greater freedom to employ staff from a variety of backgrounds, thus making it much easier to recruit teachers from independent schools or, as some independent schools are doing, to take a bright young classicist straight from a top university and to train them on the job.
New teacher recruitment was a recurring theme. We are providing bursaries of up to £9,000 for trainees studying to become teachers of Latin and Greek, which are priority secondary subjects. Schools where there is a demand for classics can also bid directly for School Direct places. The Teaching Agency aims to allocate enough teacher training places each year to match the demand for individual subjects. If demand goes up, the number of places that it offers will increase as well. I was asked specifically about the PGCE and the add-on. I will be happy to pursue that point further and to understand the details better. We are encouraging teacher training providers to offer more flexible solutions to the needs of schools and developing new PGCE courses in response to the new primary national curriculum, which is taking modern languages to younger pupils. Developing a love of learning a language means that providers of training are offering wider choices in language training, including Latin as part of a modern foreign languages PGCE.
I have mentioned the work being done by independent schools to support local schools to offer their pupils a taste of the classics. I am prompted by this debate to seek a meeting with independent school representative bodies to explore whether there is any more that we might be able to do together to see whether we can spread that. As has been mentioned, initially by the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, we have also introduced the EBacc measure, which shines a spotlight on those schools offering the mix of subjects, including Latin and Greek, that are most likely to enable students to be able to go to the top universities. The effect of the introduction of the EBacc on schools seems to be striking. Whereas in 2010 22% of pupils in maintained schools took the EBacc subjects, we estimate that that figure will rise to 49% by 2014, which is quite a marked take-up.
I was asked specifically about having more than one exam board for Latin—the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked me about the Government’s intention to move to one exam board per subject. As he knows, we think that it is necessary to protect the rigour of qualifications and to stop a race to the bottom on standards. That lies behind our thinking in moving to one exam board. We certainly do not want the new EBCs to prevent greater breadth of study and a balanced curriculum that includes time to study other subjects. We are exploring that as part of the current consultation.
By giving schools more freedom around the curriculum and employment, by raising the bar on academic achievement, by re-emphasising the importance of academic subjects through the EBacc, by tackling the culture of low aspiration for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, we are, I contend, helping to create an environment in which the seeds of a classical revival can take root. I will certainly draw some of the points made this afternoon to the attention of my honourable friend Liz Truss, who is the Minister responsible for these matters, and flag them up with her.
Rather than having a top-down approach with a range of new initiatives shooting off in all directions, we are seeking to build a schools-led system in which schools are more in the driving seat. I very much agree with all noble Lords this afternoon that the case for classics is strong. I applaud the work that is being done by its champions. I celebrate the encouraging signs that I think there are of quickening interest in the classics and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for bringing this matter to our attention this afternoon.