"There are now large tracts of the country where there are no schools or colleges offering Latin or Greek," said Dr Nicholas Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority.
"It is highly regrettable that in a period often described as one of expanding educational opportunity we have not only failed to extend the study of classics but have even denied the opportunity to many of those who traditionally had it."
Dr Tate, addressing a joint conference in Cambridge held by SCAA and the Joint Association for Classical Teaching, urged schools to consider offering "taster" courses in Latin and Greek at key stage 3.
"I make a particular plea that schools consider the possibility of making provision for classical subjects simply because they have suffered such a decline during the past 30 years and because they have often lacked defenders outside their own fraternity."
Short introductory courses, he said, "would be one way of ensuring that pupils are able to make an informed choice about subjects for GCSE. Co-operation between schools post-14 could then ensure that examination courses were available locally for those who wished to follow them.
"These would include, in due course, examination courses in classics which take advantage of the new options - the reformulated AS and the optional national diploma - announced last week in Sir Ron Dearing's 16-to-19 report."