A classical education was long considered a privilege for the few, not the many, but today Classics is a fast-growing subject in primary and secondary state schools.
Classical subjects can benefit schools and students in a number of ways:
- Developing cultural literacy: Ideas, stories and mythology from the ancient world have had a considerable influence on much modern art and literature and classical ideas are constantly being reworked in theatre and in the visual arts, film and pop-culture.
- Providing opportunities for wide-ranging thinking: The study of classical subjects is interdisciplinary. All four classical subjects – Latin, Classical Greek, Classical Civilisation and Ancient History – can involve literature, history, philosophy and the visual arts.
- Encouraging cultural insight: By reading original texts and studying material culture, students can gain a fascinating insight into the ancient world through the words and actions of people who actually lived at the time. However, there is also much in the ancient world that speaks to contemporary issues around sex and gender, race, class, social mobility etc.
Teachers have also indicated that studying ancient languages can help in the following ways:
- Supporting English literacy for pupils of all abilities: The rigorous approach to word-level and sentence-level linguistic competency which characterises these ancient languages can build a strong foundation for literacy across the curriculum.
- Enriching pupils’ vocabulary: It’s estimated that more than 65% of English words have Greek or Latin roots. Knowing the meaning of these root words helps to anchor knowledge of spelling and meaning in a wider linguistic context and can help pupils determine the meaning of words they may not recognise in English.
- Complementing modern foreign language learning: From the early stages of learning ancient languages, concepts of singular and plural, tenses and case usage are taught. Through learning Latin or Ancient Greek, students come to understand sophisticated grammatical structures and can recognise linguistic patterns that are repeated across several languages. A linguistic foundation in ancient languages can help pupils become more self-aware and confident language users.
Contrary to popular belief, ancient languages can be taught in ways that are accessible to all pupils. While Latin and Greek can stretch and challenge the most able pupils, recent research indicates that learning these languages can also have a significant positive effect on the literacy skills of those children performing below age-related expectations. Latin and Greek provide a structure around which all learners (including those with English as an additional language) can build up a clearer understanding of the way languages work.
Although it is possible to speak Latin and Greek, it is not necessary and most teaching approaches focus on reading and writing. Therefore for learners who find the need to speak and listen in other languages challenging, these languages offer an additional benefit.
 A research project at the University of Oxford is currently underway to explore what impact learning Latin has on children’s cognitive development. From the initial research findings, it would appear that there is a strong positive correlation between the learning of Latin and the development of literacy skills at KS2. In some cases, huge leaps have been made. The study will run until 2018 when final results will be published.
Classics is one of the most varied and interdisciplinary of all subjects and can include literature, history, philosophy, art and archaeology.