“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
The fundamental aims of the Latin and Classics department are to equip students with a thorough understanding of Latin vocabulary and grammar, a logical, methodical and analytical approach to translation, and an understanding of the beliefs of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and how those beliefs influenced their culture, literature and lives.
The order in which we approach this, especially at KS3, is wedded to the Cambridge Latin Course textbooks, which provide a well-thought out blend of language and culture and have strongly influenced the vocabulary and grammar required by the EDUQAS GCSE syllabus, which students follow at KS4. Classics at KS5 essentially being an entirely different subject to Latin, I will come onto that later.
A significant aim, particularly at KS3, is to emphasise the relevance of Latin and the Romans in four ways; the influence of Latin on the vocabulary of English, the way in which Latin has evolved into French and Spanish, the ways in which Romans (and Greeks) leant their ideas and terminology to almost all subjects on the curriculum, and the ways in which the Roman occupation of Britain continues to shape our country even today. It is crucial to engagement in the subject that students do not regard Latin as a “dead language” or a subject anchored in the past, but rather that from the outset they are able to perceive its relevance and usefulness in the present day.
There are several approaches that we take, guided by the content of the Cambridge Latin Course, in order to do this.
- Influence of Latin on English – Each stage of the Cambridge Latin Course comes with a vocabulary list of c. 25 words which students are expected to learn. Worksheets encourage students to think of English words that are derived from the Latin vocabulary e.g. “canis” (dog) = canine. Derivative questions also feature in end of unit assessments and are included in the GCSE exam.
- Evolution of Latin into French and Spanish – Some KS3 Latin is taught by a native French speaker, and I have also studied French to A-Level, and both of us will illustrate connections between the languages with classes that study Latin and French. The department would benefit from someone who could do the same with Spanish, but I do ask classes studying Latin and Spanish if common features such as pronouns and verb endings are similar.
- Influence of Latin and Greek on the Modern Curriculum – One topic covered in Year 7 is education in the Roman world, which enables students to see the extent to which a Greek and Roman education influences the curriculum even now. Book 1 also covers the Roman influence on politics, Book 2 looks at the Roman and Greek influence on the sciences, especially medicine, as well as technological innovations such as glass-making, and literature, the evolution of history as a discipline, agriculture and sport are also covered.
- Influence of the Roman Occupation of Britain – Book 2 of the Cambridge Latin Course is set in Roman Britain (fortuitously in the South-East!). Students learn about the influence of the Romans on their local area, from the construction of Watling Street to the naming of Rochester (from the Latin “castra” meaning a military encampment). We study the innovations that the Romans brought with them and students are encouraged, through in-class debates, to consider how the native Celts might have felt about the Roman invaders. In Year 8, students also visit Fishbourne Palace near Chichester – one of the most impressive Roman sites in Britain, with the largest collection of in-situ mosaics, it is also heavily featured in Book 2 as the home of the Romanised Celtic leader King Cogidubnus, one of the major characters in the Cambridge Latin Course. Visiting his palace helps to promote student engagement with the narrative of the course.
From the first, the department puts a strong emphasis on the precise and accurate translation of Latin into grammatically correct English. Students are reminded from the first that meaning in Latin is derived from the endings rather than the order of the words, and are encouraged from Term 1 to translate phrases in a wide variety of word orders to accustom them to this. With Latin not being a spoken language, we forgo speaking and listening exercises, meaning we teach more complex grammar at an earlier stage than French or Spanish. The Cambridge Latin Course lends itself to a spiral pattern of learning whereby nouns, verbs, adjectives and pronouns are revisited in turn, each time building upon the previous level of understanding. By the end of KS3, students will have encountered over 75% of the vocabulary and approximately 65% of the grammar needed for the Latin Language GSCE paper.
At KS4, we focus on the three different elements required for the EDUQAS Latin GCSE. As well as continuing with their study of vocabulary and grammar in line with the Cambridge Latin Course, students study an aspect of Roman Culture which rotates every three years; currently it is Daily Life in the Roman World, previously it was Entertainment and Leisure. This builds on the knowledge of the Roman world acquired at KS3, and includes an opportunity for all students to visit a relevant site in England such as Bath or St Albans. In Year 11, to allow for maximum grammar acquisition first, students study Roman Literature. Latin and Greek are unique among languages in that students have the opportunity to translate and analyse original literature at GCSE rather than A-Level. This builds upon the skills students have gained in their English Literature classes, and their confidence is boosted by an initial audit of the literary terminology they have been using in this subject.
At KS5 we offer Classical Civilisation rather than Latin, a decision made for a number of reasons. It is in part a legacy decision; when I joined the school, students commenced Latin at the end of Year 7 rather than the beginning as they do now, and studied for the WJEC Level 2 certificates rather than a GCSE; the gap in content between this and the Latin A-Level was too great to bridge. In addition, as increasingly few schools offer Latin for GCSE, we would have limited the number of external students joining the sixth form who could have taken the subject. As Classical Civilisation requires no knowledge of Latin or Greek, and is open to any students who can perform well in subjects such as History or English that require analytical and essay-writing skills, it is much more inclusive. Now that we have another full-time Latin teacher, as well as a third teacher who is able to teach Classics at A-Level, this is a decision that I may revisit.
At KS5 we follow the OCR syllabus, which is the only option given that AQA declined to reform their qualifications. We study the compulsory World of the Hero module, which covers Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. The works of Homer are the very first works of literature in the Western world, and something with which anyone looking to study any kind of literature should be familiar. These texts enable students to explore and understand the Classical world and compare their values with ours; what it was to be a man and a hero, ancient views on warfare, slavery, women and religion, all of which resonate with modern-world issues which the Sixth Form cover as part of their tutorial program. We choose to study the Odyssey rather than the Iliad as the more naturally and immediately engaging of the two epics, although passages of the Iliad that directly influence the Aeneid are also discussed. Students also study the Greek Theatre module, which combines the literary study of Greek tragedy and comedy with an exploration of the visual evidence of theatres and depictions of drama on pottery. The last module offered is Greek Religion, which covers written evidence from Homer, Hesiod and Herodotus, archaeological evidence of temples, pottery, statuary, etc. and an investigation into the origins of Philosophy. Students are constantly encouraged to explore the reasons why the Greeks believed the things that they did, and to draw parallels between Greek beliefs and some of the modern religions they have studied at KS3 and KS4. We do lean towards Greek rather than Roman modules as this draws on the strengths and interests of the teaching staff. Opportunities are offered for a visit to the British Museum, which houses many of the key artefacts on the Theatre and Religion modules, as well as attending a performance of a Greek play.
The Latin and Classics curriculum has been designed to ensure that it is accessible to all students. The Head of Department is proudly Autistic, and has taken care to ascertain that lessons are taught in a way that is logical and predictable, with transitions between tasks clearly signalled. The nature of Latin itself as a logical language with its rules and patterns clearly emphasised means that it is accessible to all, and a great many SEN students, especially ASC students, choose Latin as their GCSE Language. We use the Cambridge Latin Course, which is designed in a “spiral” pattern to ensure that key grammatical areas such as nouns, verbs, pronouns and adjectives are all frequently revisited, each time adding another layer to students’ understanding. Without the need for speaking and listening activities that are fundamental to a modern foreign language, Latin classrooms are calm, quiet places where the risk of sensory overload is minimised.
Correct understanding of grammar and accurate use of grammatical terminology is fundamental to Latin. From the start, students become familiar with concepts such as noun declensions and cases, conjugations of verbs, and adjectival agreement, and are expected to use accurate and subject specific vocabulary to discuss these aspects of language. From the very first stage of the Cambridge Latin Course, students are encouraged to make connections between Latin vocabulary and English derivatives e.g. “canine” from the Latin word “canis,” meaning “dog,” or “scribe” from the Latin verb “scribere,” meaning “to write.” Connections are also made with French and Spanish vocabulary, both languages having developed from Latin. All assessments include a marking criterion for translating Latin into good English.
At GCSE, students study for a Latin Literature paper which makes up 30% of their overall grade. This paper requires students to translate original works of Latin Literature by famous writers such as Virgil, Horace and Pliny, and then to analyse these works using terminology familiar to them from their English Literature lessons such as alliteration, similes and metaphors. Many students over the years have commented that studying Literature in Latin has improved their understanding of their English Literature classes.
At all stages of Latin vocabulary acquisition is emphasised as an essential part of learning; students have regular vocabulary tests and are encouraged to explore effective techniques for learning vocabulary. Online vocabulary tests are available from the Cambridge Latin Course, and students are shown how to use these as part of their very first homework; this continues all the way through until their GCSE exams.
The largest of the three Classical Civilisation modules – The World of the Hero – is focussed on two famous works of literature; Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. Students are encouraged to compare these ancient works to modern epics to see how literature has developed, but they also learn to analyse passages from these extracts using the terminology that all will have studied as part of their English GCSE. Marking criteria for all A-Level essays include a “SPAG” aspect requiring students to produce responses that are “logically structured, with a well-developed, sustained and coherent line of reasoning.” Any issues with literacy in written responses are indicated as part of the marking process.