Latin and Greek could be driven out of state school sixth-forms altogether under new A-level restrictions, say classics teachers alarmed by the latest proposals from the Government's curriculum agency.
The new A-level limits, which in some cases allow only one syllabus per subject per exam board, are threatening the future of popular coursework options - viewed as an essential way of making Latin and Greek attractive to students outside grammar and independent schools.
Sir Ron Dearing, retiring chair of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, has written to the four A-level boards in England, asking them to offer a maximum of two syllabuses for each of the major subjects.
For exams such as Latin and Greek with fewer than 15,000 entrants, the boards will be limited to offering just one A-level course.
But as SCAA confirmed this week, the increasingly successful coursework versions of all A-levels would be counted as separate syllabuses in their own right.
The move has been attacked by the Association for Science Education which said that coursework is an important way of attracting badly needed students into subjects such as A-level physics.
The Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard, called for the drastic reduction in syllabuses after concern about schools "shopping around" for A-level courses with the highest pass rate. The cutback was first proposed in Sir Ron Dearing's 16-19 review last summer.
Last week saw publication of a damning report from SCAA attacking the way that A-level English grades were awarded by the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board. The report accused the board's markers of giving out "unjustified and unsupported" grades to candidates, most of whom came from public schools.
Barbara Bell, executive secretary of the Joint Association of Classical Teachers and a teacher at Bristol Grammar School, said: "State schools, which are already under enormous pressure to keep classics on the timetable, are going to see this as yet another problem.
Geoffrey Fallows, head of Camden School for Girls in London and a former JACT secretary, said: "We have always done coursework options in A-level classics and we've seen them as a valuable experience. It avoids some of the dull uniformity. It's also an important factor in attracting students who might shy away from unusual subjects."
The most vulnerable exam board is the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. It has little room for manoeuvre because it is committed to a wide range of specialist A-level courses.
George Turnbull from the Southern Examining Group said that choice was important. "One of the things to be realised is that the boards are not offering syllabuses which aren't required, because we can't afford to offer them." he said. "There will be a lot less choice - and if it's taken too far, it could become restrictive."
A spokeswoman from SCAA said: "We're in discussions. While these limits are not hard and fast, we want to make them stick -without being unreasonable. "