A classic opportunity for every learner

23rd January 1998 at 00:00
Opportunity for All was the subtitle of the first Higher Still document. The classics specialists in Scotland have taken opportunities offered by the new development for all kinds of learners. As well as transforming Higher grade into Higher level, and CSYS into Advanced Higher, they have recommended new provision for Latin, classical Greek and classical studies at Intermediate level 1 and level 2. An important part of this work has been the selection of texts to be prescribed for Intermediate Latin and classical Greek courses, units and examinations.

Intermediate, a new two-level link in the concatenation of assessment, could be described as a "golden mean" - aurea mediocritas, to borrow the words of an early champion of moderation who wrote lyrically on the subject of the "middle way". The new levels are aimed mainly at fifth-year pupils who have gained Standard grade in fourth year at a level below grade 2, and are not ready for Higher. Intermediate level 1 is to be regarded as equivalent to Standard grade general level (grades 3 and 4). Intermediate level 2 is to have parity of esteem with Standard grade credit level (grades 1 and 2). In common with the upper levels, the Intermediate levels are to have internal assessment of units in addition to external assessment of courses.

In Latin, the journey from the simple certainty of amo amas amat to the complex subtlety of the Virgilian hexameter can be made by more than one route. Some students - the happy few - will race ahead from Standard grade to Higher to Advanced Higher, and onwards to tertiary education. Others will require a slower way, via Intermediate. Some learners, perhaps pupils to whom Standard grade provision is not available, or FE students, adult beginners or returners, may start with Intermediate. Crash course candidates may, with difficulty, make straight for Higher. Short courses or modules currently offer a suitable starting point for some candidates: this provision is to be reviewed in the light of Higher Still provision of units.

The new Intermediate levels may have the desired effect of encouraging the faint-hearted to continue a little farther after a struggle to reach Standard grade. Intermediate levels offer a different experience - they are not a repeat of Standard grade; and yet they are not as daunting as Higher - but Intermediate 2 in particular could help to bring Higher into view and make it a less forbidding prospect.

Given all these considerations, the specialist group graced a particular challenge in deciding on a choice of prescribed literature for the Intermediate levels in Latin and Classical Greek. A starting point was a review of what had worked well in previous prescriptions at a similar level. In Latin verse, clear favourites were the story of Icarus (as told by Ovid in the Metamorphoses), and a selection of short poems by Catullus (love, hate and wit). Suitable Latin prose for this early stage of study is always more elusive, especially since Caesar and his Gallic wars are rather out of favour in some quarters at present. Narrative passages by Cicero were finally chosen, reporting some of the dreadful deeds of the villain Verres.

These passages were prescribed for both levels of Intermediate, and it was hoped that they would provide an introduction to the more extended study of Cicero at Higher level. For similar progression, extracts from Virgil's Aeneid were prescribed for Intermediate level 2. In Greek, continuity was offered through the possibility of reading Thucydides and Homer in both Intermediate and Higher.

For a variety of reasons, it may be that some will end their journey at Intermediate level 1 or 2. Even so, they will have had the opportunity to study an interesting and challenging selection of literature, much of which may well stay with them as a source of enjoyment and wisdom in future years.

Not everyone would agree that Latin (or Greek) is an ideal subject. And yet it involves not only the problem-solving side of the brain, by means of the mental processes involved in translation (vividly described in The Kiln by William McIlvanney), but the imaginative side, through the creative visualisation required in the interpretation of literature. The traditional name of Latin is "Humanity". These new developments are for those who believe, in the midst of hard times and utilitarian exhortations, that the curriculum vitae of an educated person should include a measure of humanity.

Bridget Loney, an examination officer with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, writes in a personal capacity.

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