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St Mary’s is a non-selective Catholic comprehensive high school for pupils of 11 – 18 in Chesterfield. Following comments from some Year 7 parents at a parents’ evening in 2006, it was decided to introduce Latin to Year 7s as a lunchtime interest club. The generous grant awarded by Friends of the Classics (which merged with Classics for All in 2016) enabled us to buy Cambridge Latin textbooks and the E-Learning resource, and we were off.
Latin continued purely as a lunchtime interest club until the introduction of the WJEC Level 2 exam attracted three brave students, keen to put their Latin to the test in 2011. All three were highly successful, and the GCSE precedent was set.
Numbers received a boost when a short taster course was introduced to Year 8 students in 2013. This consisted – and still does – of six half-hour sessions, delivered on timetable in place of a library period. Students may then choose to do a further six half-hour sessions towards the end of Year 8, again during their library period. Pressure on the timetable, however, means that, after Year 8, Latin has to be delivered on an extra-curricular basis.
Currently Year 9s either do two registration sessions of 20 minutes each per week or one before-school session of 30 minutes; Year 10s and Year 11s all do one 20-minute registration session and either an after-school or lunchtime session each week. These time constraints obviously present an interesting challenge for the teacher preparing the students for GCSE!
Despite this, numbers continue to grow: 19 students sat the Eduqas GCSE in June 2018, over half of them gaining either a grade 8 or 9. There are similar numbers in the currrent Year 11, 26 students studying for GCSE in Year 10 and 46 in Year 9. Lessons are all delivered by a French teacher who launched Latin on the basis of a rusty O level from 1973. She went on to take some distance learning courses with the University of Cambridge Schools Classics Project, completing A level in 2012.
In order to maximise the limited time, extensive use is made of IT: clicking on vocabulary is much quicker than searching in a glossary; interactive exercises provide immediate feedback and vocabulary learning programs are helpful, especially Quizlet Live which is hugely popular and useful for practising grammar (eg verb tenses) too.
There is a lot of enthusiasm for Latin among the students. When asked (anonymously) why they had opted to do Latin, many talked about the enjoyment, the fun and fascination of studying both language and civilisation. Many felt it helped them with other subjects – particularly science, languages and English – and would prove useful in later life. One Year 11 boy expressed it like this: ‘I love Latin as it takes me on a journey back in time and tells a story of another world. I find it fascinating to look back through history to see modern parallels with the ancient civilisation.’