Languages - Ad hoc Latin club has 'cult' appeal

23rd August 2013 at 01:00
Members achieve impressive results without qualified teacher

Students at an East Dunbartonshire secondary are scoring top grades in Latin - even though the school has no qualified teacher in the subject and no timetabled classes.

Bearsden Academy depute headteacher Annette MacKay said that Latin has become a "cult" favourite among high-achieving students since an after-school club was set up in 2011-12.

Five students sat Intermediate 1 Latin that year, with another five doing so last year - and all achieved the highest award of A at band 1. Both times they were the only Intermediate 1 Latin candidates anywhere in Scotland. One student even took Intermediate 2 last year, also earning an A at band 1.

The club, which meets for about an hour every second week, was set up at the request of a student who wanted to study at Oxbridge. Ms MacKay had told the student, Anna McDonald, that her application could do with "something to make it stand out", and suggested Latin or Mandarin - although "whether I could find someone to teach it was another matter".

The club that emerged has proved attractive to aspiring law, medicine and languages students. It is run by Ms MacKay, who read languages at university but whose last sustained experience of Latin was sitting the Higher some years ago. In the first year, a regular group of eight S6 students worked through Cambridge Latin Course textbooks. There were nine regulars last year and Ms MacKay expects a similar number in 2013-14.

"I can't tell you why Latin has become a kind of cult in the school, but it has," Ms MacKay said.

"It was more relaxed (than other lessons)," said Anna, now in her second year studying law at the University of Cambridge. "We were allowed to learn outside the syllabus. Mrs MacKay made it fun and enjoyable and really brought it to life."

Ms MacKay recalls that Anna was a driving force: "After a while she said, 'Can we do Latin as an exam?' The next thing, she started nagging me about whether we could go to Rome - so four pupils and I went on a 36-hour trip."

The sessions will continue until Intermediates are consigned to history in 2015, but Ms MacKay does not know if she will carry on under the new National qualifications.

Robert Quinn, head of humanities, arts and business at the Scottish Qualifications Authority, said: "The Bearsden Academy delivery model is a great example of the flexibility and personalisation of learning that Curriculum for Excellence is bringing to schools and colleges in Scotland."

Status quo

The General Teaching Council for Scotland told TESS this week that there are 112 qualified Latin teachers in the country, although no Scottish university offers Latin for student teachers.

Figures from the Scottish Qualifications Authority show that while uptake of Latin is low, numbers have remained fairly steady for the past 10 years. There were 244 Higher entries in 2004 and 218 in 2013.

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