Innovative Practice - Latin lovers

The so-called 'dead language' is being used to improve disadvantaged pupils' literacy skills in primaries

Jana Christoffel

The background

Supporters of Latin lessons have long argued that they help to improve young people's understanding of the structure of language and increase logical thinking. The subject has seen a resurgence in comprehensives in recent years, so is no longer regarded as purely the preserve of private schools.

However, it is still rarely taught in primaries, especially those in disadvantaged areas. Support and Help in Education (SHINE), a charity that funds educational programmes for underachieving six- to 18-year-olds, decided to support an organisation that believes Latin is for everyone. The Latin Programme is a registered charity that since 2008 has helped less advantaged pupils to develop their literacy through the language. The SHINE funding enabled it to expand its activities to delivering classes at five inner-London schools.

The project

Once a week, for an hour, the Latin Programme sends teachers and professional storytellers to work with children in Years 4, 5 and 6. A typical lesson might be held in a school's literacy hour, and begin with the instructors writing a Latin saying on the board, such as veni, vidi, vici, then letting the pupils guess its meaning.

The instructors would then talk about the phrase's cultural background and if such proverbs are still relevant today, followed by some revision of verb endings and a short conversation in Latin read out by two pupils. The class has to find out which characters they might represent - perhaps a poet or a slave - with the hope that this will also help the pupils' understanding of history. Other cross-curricular links include getting pupils to collect Latin words connected to maths.

The lessons always incorporate little treats that pupils can look forward to, such as stories about classical mythology, songs, bingo and even rapping in Latin.

Zanna Wing-Davey, executive director of the programme, says that the lessons help to give pupils a grounding for learning various European languages in the future.

SHINE has provided the scheme with funding to run the programme for one year at a total cost of #163;25,000.

Tips from the scheme

Wing-Davey has some advice:

"Don't be pushed off by being small - go for it even if you think you have no chance. We were really small before the SHINE funding."

"A programme should speak for itself and never stop working hard."

"To make the pupils really enjoy it, always include some exciting bits to look forward to."

Evidence that it works?

Staff involved in the project report positive reactions from parents and pupils. Early indications suggest that schools involved have witnessed improvements in literacy; a more in-depth independent evaluation of the scheme is planned.


Approach: The Latin Programme - Via Facilis. A scheme to help primary children in disadvantaged areas to improve their literacy

Set up by: The Latin Programme with funding from SHINE

Location: Five London primaries: two in Islington, one in Hammersmith, one in Brent and one in Wandsworth

Number of pupils taking part: 356


Have your own idea to improve disadvantaged pupils' literacy or numeracy? Teachers can get up to #163;15,000 for their projects by applying to Let Teachers SHINE. The new scheme, from SHINE and TES, aims to support up to 10 projects and help the most successful ones to expand nationally. The deadline for applications is 3 June. Teachers can download application forms from

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Jana Christoffel

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