Last week I heard an item on “Word of Mouth” on  radio 4 where Michael Rosen was visiting the Dagenham Park community school. He had heard of a new activity in the after school club, learning Latin! This was very popular with the children and they were far more animated about it than we ever were!

It was only after I left school that I realised what a useful asset we had been given. Latin is the root of many foreign languages, but it impinges on so many other areas too,  not only medicine, horticulture,law etc. but  also logic and maths.

The children are being taught in a completely different way from the methods used on us. They are not taught declensions etc. but learn about Roman life and history, which seems to bring it all to life.

I have heard that there are moves to put it back on the curriculum, led by the Cambridge School of Classics, but there is a great shortage of Latin teachers, 65 left  and there are only 35 in training.

Latin was a minority subject even when I was at school (in the 1950s). We were not graded until the 2nd form and all did French in the 1st form, in the 2nd form only the A and B streams did Latin. In the 4th form we had to choose arts or science, so half the students left the Latin classes. In the 5th form we had further choices as we prepared for “O” levels so a few more gave up Latin. In the 6th form I think there were only about 4 girls doing “A” level Latin.

Our first Latin teacher was quite literally “of the old school” She had taught at High Pavement when it was a co-ed school and then, when my school, The Manning School for Girls, was built in the 1930s she moved to that. There was a small group of these elderly teachers, who had been there since the early days and they were very similar, dedicated single ladies, dedicated to their subjects, who stood no nonsense and, somehow, instilled knowledge into our unwilling brains by sheer willpower! It must have worked because I can still hear them when I think about their subjects, 50 years later.

Miss D was a shortish lady with grey wispy hair taken back into a rather untidy bun, which shed hair pins when she got excited. She always wore tweeds, summer and winter, and sat with her knees apart showing the elasticated bottoms of her pink silk bloomers.  She bellowed out the declensions etc. so that they could probably hear her in the next classroom. We used to giggle about her behind her back but we did respect her really, not so the strange young lady who replaced her when she  retired. She was straight from university and decided on the “matey” approach, but children will always take advantage of weakness, given half a chance, and we had no respect for her and I lost any interest in the subject and did just enough work to get me through “O” level, and then gave it up.

It was only in later years that I appreciated the values of learning Latin and was quite disappointed that it was no longer being taught in Jennie’s schools, so I hope it will make a comeback and will be in place when my grandsons go to secondary school, though this may be a vain hope here in Wales as they teach their own ancient language, Welsh, which even its most devout defendents cannot claim helps with logic!

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