On the face of it, encouraging children to learn Latin doesn’t seem like the solution to our current skills crisis. Why waste valuable curriculum time on a dead language when children could be learning one that’s actually spoken? The prominence of Latin in public schools is a manifestation of the gentleman amateur tradition whereby esoteric subjects are preferred to anything that’s of any practical use. Surely, that’s one of the causes of the crisis in the first place?
But dig a little deeper and you’ll find plenty of evidence that this particular dead language is precisely what today’s young people need if they’re going to excel in the contemporary world.
Let’s start with Latin’s reputation as an elitist subject. While it’s true that 70 percent of independent schools offer Latin compared with only 16 per cent of state schools, that’s hardly a reason not to teach it more widely. According to the OECD, our private schools are the best in the world, whereas our state schools are ranked on average 23rd.
No doubt part of this attainment gap is attributable to the fact that the average private school child has advantages that the average state school child does not. But it may also be due to the differences in the curriculums th