Learning ancient languages at primary school can have positive impact on pupils’ attainment

Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Senior Research Fellow in Classics Education at Christ Church, and research assistant Katrina Kelly have published a report for the Department for Education into the provision of Latin and Ancient Greek in primary schools in England.

The report finds that while Latin and Ancient Greek have been included as options in the primary school Languages curriculum since 2014, the policy ambition of widespread learning of ancient languages in primary schools requires significant further investment.

Dr Arlene Holmes-HendersonOngoing research by Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson has found evidence that learning ancient languages has a variety of positive effects on pupils’ attainment, especially their literacy levels, and particularly in those with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND), those who have English as an Additional Language (EAL) and those who qualify for the Pupil Premium.

The study of the Romans and Greeks is a compulsory part of the History national curriculum in English primary schools, creating an opportunity to enrich and extend learners’ appreciation of the past by adding ancient language learning via the Languages curriculum.

Barriers to teaching languages in primary schools include timetabling pressures, a lack of confidence amongst teachers, and the prioritisation of Maths and English provision, the report found.

A typical 30 minutes of language teaching weekly amounts to just 2 per cent of curriculum time, which is very low compared with other European countries such as Spain, for example, where language learning takes up to 10% of the primary curriculum.

Dr Holmes-Henderson said: 'One of the major barriers to expansion is the lack of reliable data about the study of Latin and Greek in the primary sector. This report makes clear that if Latin and Greek are to be taught more extensively in primary schools, there needs to be a co-ordinated national programme of teacher training.

'The recently launched £4m Latin Excellence Programme provides support in secondary schools and I hope that this provision will benefit primary schools in future too.'