A growing number of children as young as seven are learning Latin in a move to improve their literacy and understanding of ancient civilisations.
Existing teachers are being trained to take the lessons with funding from the charity Classics for All, and a group of 20 schools in Norfolk is showing what can be achieved.
Project co-ordinator Jane Maguire said: “It gives them the ability to understand sometimes quite hard words in English and to interpret them through their knowledge of Latin.”
“It gives them an understanding of the grammatical structure of a language which helps them when they come to learn a modern language and it opens up the whole legacy of the Roman empire which is all around us.”
Her view is shared by the Department for Education. All seven-year-olds will learn a language from September with Latin and ancient Greek included as options.
Antingham and Southrepps Primary is a tiny, rural primary school in Norfolk where Year 4 pupils have had the chance to dress up as Romans and act out the tale of an ancient birthday party in Latin.
Emma, aged nine, said: “I think it’s helping us because it’s nice to learn that lots of our words come from Latin.”
And eight-year-old Emily says she can imagine continuing with the subject at secondary school. “It’s fun!” she said.
Down the road at North Walsham High, pupils of all ages are learning the subject.
Rachel, aged 13, thinks it could help with her career. “I want to be veterinary nurse when I’m older and some of the medicines are in Latin so I wanted to try it out.”
And Michael, 12, said to start with he was not keen “but I’m doing good in it now and I like it”.
But teacher and author Francis Gilbert believes it is a waste of time.
Mr Gilbert said: “It is not a living language, it’s a dead language. You can’t go to ancient Rome and speak it as you can with Spanish or German.”
“The vast majority of children find it completely removed from their lives … not relevant to who they are. It’s very, very difficult to present it in an energetic and enthusiastic way.”
The Mayor of London disagrees. Boris Johnson recently pledged a quarter of a million pounds so that children in the most deprived parts of the capital could learn Latin.
In the past two years, the number of pupils taking Latin GCSE has risen by 9%.
But up to 70 classics teachers retire each year while only 25 emerge from university ready to replace them.
Classics for All is trying to bridge that gap and more grants are available to give teachers the skills they need to teach it.