Internet offers a Latin revival
Ministers are concerned that too few teenagers have access to a variety of languages because their schools lack specialist teachers.
Technology minister Michael Wills is overseeing the development of Internet-based courses which would allow pupils to study at their own pace and send their work to specialists by e-mail.
The Latin and Japanese courses will be piloted for 11 to 14-year-olds this autumn in around 60 schools. Bids for the contract to supply the courses have been made and the winners will be announced next month.
Classical scholars have long complained about the dramatic decline in the numbers studying Latin since the introduction of the national curriculum.
In 1988, 17,000 pupils took Latin GCSE -this fell to 11,694 in 1997. The biggest drop was in comprehensives which now supply 40 per cent fewer candidates, while grammars have seen a 20 per cent decline. Independent school entries have dropped by only 5 per cent. Only one-third of entrants now come from the state sector.
Cambridge University classicists have been running their own pilot involving two local schools, neither of which have trained Latin teachers. Since September the two schools have provided Latin sessions outside the normal timetable. The school staff supervise, but do not teach. Pupils send their work to be marked by e-mail to students training to become classics teachers.
Demand for Japanese lessons is growing but a shortage of teachers has limited the take-up, a survey by the Further Education Development Agency concluded last year.
An online maths course for 11-year-olds is also to be developed under the scheme.