The TES on 8 July, 2011
By: Adi Bloom
Forget whether or not you have any tickets. The big question of the 2012 Olympics will be: do you have the necessary classics knowledge to recognise a Panathenaic horseman when you see one? Boris Johnson believes the forthcoming London Olympics should serve as a rallying cry to state schools to fly the vexillum for latinae scientia.
In an article in this week's TES, the London mayor calls for a significant increase in the number of training places available for would-be classics teachers. At the moment, 70 classics teachers retire every year and only 30 are trained to replace them.
And the Training and Development Agency for Schools has cut the number of places on offer to ancient-world linguists. "I believe fervently that a training in classics is one of the best, if not the best, that a young mind can have," Mr Johnson wrote. "It is a universal spanner for so many other languages, and it also gives young people access ... to an understanding of world history, from our ideas about democracy to the Arab Spring."
He describes his decision to install a frieze of Panathenaic horsemen - copied from the original at the Parthenon in Athens - at the Olympic village in east London.
Mr Johnson then claims that Latin and Greek, like Odysseus, have emerged intact from the kingdom of the dead. Latin, Greek and ancient history are ranked alongside mainstream subjects as part of the new English Baccalaureate.
"Not a bad record for supporters of a subject that is meant to be dying," Mr Johnson wrote. "But these hardy and hunted classical guerrillas, Odyssean in their cunning and tenacity, must step up the fight."
Wilf O'Neill of the Association for Latin Teaching said: "Schools wanting Latin teachers can't get them, because there aren't enough trained.
"But Latin is the basis of our culture. Culturally, linguistically, literally, everything goes back to Greece, via Rome. Latin is the vehicle by which European is transmitted, and has been for centuries."
However, Peter Jones of the Friends of Classics organisation points out that 75 per cent of state schools do not offer any classical subjects, while 70 per cent of independents do.
"If you think there's any value at all in uncovering the history of much of our political, educational, intellectual and artistic development, then the failure to teach classics is a dereliction of academic duty," Dr Jones said.
"We're not talking about forcing it down people's throats - just making it available. Where it is available, children leap at it like starving dogs."
There is, he adds, a lesson from the Romans here. Schools must be animis opibusque parati: prepared in spirit and resources.