Classics in schools: the research report, March 2010
by Colin McDonald MA FMRS
This postal survey was conducted amongst schools teaching classics, both independent and in the state sector, with the aim of discovering what values they attached to classics teaching and what problems they faced in doing so.
Letters with questionnaires were sent to all
Completed questionnaires were returned from 491 out of the 1103 schools contacted, a response rate of 45%. The returns included nearly equal numbers of independent (256) and state (234) schools. This equates to a slight bias in returns in favour of the independents; the response rate from independent schools contacted was 56% and from state schools 36%. Because of this small bias, results below are quoted separately for independent and state schools.
Latin and Greek languages
95% of the independents and 78% of the state schools currently teach Latin. 77% (independent) and 33% (state) teach it to A-level or equivalent standard.
Teaching of Greek is much lower: 59% (independents) and 15% (state) teach any Greek; 41% (independents) and 8% (state) teach it to A level standard.
There is a difference in who gets taught these languages: of those who teach them, 93% of independents but only 65% of state schools say they are open to anyone (as opposed to being restricted to top-stream or ‘gifted and talented’ children). Three quarters of the state school teachers said that, if they had more resources, they would like to increase the numbers taking Latin or Greek. State schools have more difficulty fitting Latin/Greek onto the timetable: only 67% of those who teach Latin in state schools do so on timetable as opposed to virtually all the independents, and only 7% can teach Greek on timetable (cf. 40% of the independents).
Both types of schools agree closely in what they see as the main benefits of Latin and Greek. Mental training (intellectual rigour, developing logical and analytical skills) are regarded as more important than more ‘practical’ aims (clarity of expression, improving English or helping to learn modern languages), although this rank order covers a wide range of opinions.
Both types of school claim a high degree of parental support for Latin/Greek: 91% independent, 71% state. In both cases parental opposition is almost non-existent. Both also claim support from teachers in other departments (75% independent, 58% state) the remainder being mostly indifferent; there is very little opposition from other departments in either type of school.
The main problems faced in teaching classical languages are timetabling and finding or training the staff required. These problems are somewhat worse in the state sector, where 53% say timetabling is a serious problem and 40% staff (equivalent figures for independents are 18% and 20%). A lesser problem is that pupils tend to give up too early (14% state, 18% independent). In open questioning, several respondents expressed a wish that the National Curriculum should give more acceptance to Latin/Greek (23% independents, 28% of state schools).
Ancient history and classical civilisation
72% of independents but only 38% of the state schools teach ‘classical civilisation’. Ancient history is taught by much fewer: only 10% of independents and 6% of the state schools. More than half (58% independents, 53% state) would like to increase these numbers if they had more resources.
The most important benefits of studying these subjects were felt to be ‘ability to understand different points of view’, developing skills of persuasion and argument, and ‘intellectual balance and objectivity’. These were given somewhat more importance than ‘wider understanding of one’s own history/civilisation’ or ‘skill in handling and presenting information’, although there is again a wide range of opinion around these averages and all do have importance. The pattern here was very similar between independent and state schools.
Support for these subjects is again high among both parents and teachers, with almost no opposition. Problems are similar to language teaching, with timetable and lack of staff the most serious (but pupils are less likely to give up these subjects too early). These answers are very similar for both independent and state schools.
Colin McDonald MA FMRS
McDonald Research (http://www.mcdonald-research.com/)