Skip to main content
article icon

Now look, Latin's fine, but Greek might be even Beta

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 30 July, 2010 | By: Helen Ward

Deprived children targeted for language lessons

The works of ancient Greece have shaped the study of maths, science and civilization for centuries.

But now the native tongue of Archimedes and Herodotus is to be turned to a more basic use - to help primary children from deprived backgrounds improve their English.

The initiative, which will start this September, is being run by the Iris Project, which pioneered the return of Latin to state school classrooms.

Started as a pilot scheme in 2006, it has introduced Latin to dozens of inner-city schools, and director Lorna Robinson is confident that classical Greek could prove even more popular.

"It will provide a clear and fascinating basis for grasping the complexities of English grammar and connect with other aspects of the school curriculum, from history and geography through to science, maths, drama, art and sport," said Dr Robinson.

The Greek lessons will start for 160 pupils in three schools in Oxford in September. A further 10 schools will get one-off taster sessions.

Sue Baker, head of At Andrew's primary in Headington, is one of the schools involved in the Latin project, which will also run an ancient Greek taster session.

She said: "We will be having a Latin after-school club from the autumn half-term. It will be run by a student from Oxford University. We have had Latin taught in school before; children enjoy it and they benefit. It certainly helps with English because they learn the derivations of words and spellings."

Sue Widgery, head of East Oxford primary in Cowley where 26 languages are spoken, said many of her pupils are adept at picking up languages. She said: "The Latin classes we did a couple of years ago were surprisingly successful. A lot of our children (already) know two languages or maybe three.

"They are used to working with different texts. We were sufficiently enthused by Latin to give it a go with ancient Greek. It heightens children's sense of language, they can see the connections between languages and it is fun."

At Bayards Hill primary in Barton, the classes in Greek will be the pupils' first foray into the classics - pupils at East Oxford primary and Pegasus primary in Blackbird Leys will be learning the language in addition to Latin lessons.

Dr Robinson, who will be teaching the one-hour lessons every other week, said: "People can be daunted at the idea of learning a language that has a different alphabet as it may feel like an additional challenge.

"Actually, though, we've found that while it does add an extra dimension to the learning it's one that people take to quite quickly and really enjoy once they get going.

"Ancient Greek is just a wonderful language, full of beautiful words and fascinating concepts."

Pupils will be taught not only the alphabet, basic grammar and vocabulary but will also learn about ancient Greek culture - including the development of the Olympic Games and the comedies of Aristophanes.

Latin is more widely taught than ancient Greek, although it is still mainly confined to the independent sector. Advocates include Boris Johnson, mayor of London and patron of the Iris Project, who recently gave a Latin lesson to teenagers at a London secondary.

The Government has said it will reform the primary curriculum, and a new campaign, Allow Latin for Language Learners, led by Oxford classicists, is now calling for the language to be offered to primary pupils.

But Dr Robinson said that Greek could surpass Latin in popularity: "I wanted to pilot ancient Greek because people tend to find it more fascinating and intriguing. It seems to hold a certain awe and fascination for its myths and philosophy.

"So I am keen to find out whether teaching Greek may actually be as appealing or more appealing to pupils than Latin."

First off the block

Maths - According to Pythagoras's theorem, in a right-angle triangle the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

Science - Archimedes noticed that the level of the water in the bath rose as he got in and realised that this effect could be used to determine the volume of objects.

Citizenship - Athens was one of the first known democracies, where citizens voted on legislation.

PE - The first Olympic Games were a series of athletic contests for the city-states of ancient Greece.

History - Herodotus was regarded as the 'father of history' in Western culture and was the first historian known to collect materials, test their accuracy and present them as a narrative.

Subscribe to the magazine

5 average rating

Comment (4)

  • Don't forget drama (always a popular subject). All drama students should know about Greek drama and the culture it came from. Aristophanes *invented* alternative comedy.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
    1 August, 2010


  • Greek is considerably more difficult than Latin so I wonder if they will progress beyond the very simple sentence in the present tense, though with running vocabulary they could have the illusion of 'knowing' Greek. I've certainly done the Christmas story from St. Luke in this way with Latin pupils who've adapted to the alphabet with ease thanks to Edna Blindell's Greek alphabet poem. But considerable learning by heart is required to master Greek grammar; I'm still learning and have taught Classical Greek now, on and off, for more than 40 years. But I am thrilled by the prospect - is it somehow connected with the Greek word 'thrulos' - a legend?? (And of course that was, and this is a 'parenthesis'.) It is this kind of question that makes Greek so fascinating apart from the drama/history/art/science/maths/philosophy 'kai ta loipa' (Greek for etc.) But Latin remains far more easily accessible, especially on the basis (another Greek word) of a lesson 'every other week'.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    3 August, 2010


  • I am looking for someone to teach Latin to my nine year old ( private lessons) I live in rochdale.


    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    9 February, 2011


  • Greek has always seemed to me to be easier to learn than Latin, as once the hurdles of an unfamiliar alphabet and vocabulary have been overcome, the grammar includes the regular use of pronouns, articles, etc. which are often left out in Latin, and which can make it much easier to parse any given word. This means that, whilst I can read a Greek sentence in roughly the same fashion as I can English, reading even the relatively simple Latin of, say, Caesar, can seem like indulging in a spot of amateur cryptography, to say nothing of Horace or Virgil...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    14 August, 2012


Add your comment

Subscribe to TES magazine
Join TES for free now

Join TES for free now

Four great reasons to join today...

1. Be part of the largest network of teachers in the world – over 2m members
2. Download over 600,000 free teaching resources
3. Get a personalized email of the most relevant resources for you delivered to your inbox.
4. Find out first about the latest jobs in education