New Department for Education report on Ancient Languages in Primary Schools

arleneholmes henderson

Two Oxford Classics academics have published a report for the Department for Education into the provision of Latin and Ancient Greek in primary schools in England. Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Senior Research Fellow in Classics Education, and Katrina Kelly, Research Assistant in Classics Education have collaborated with policy partners to produce the first government-commissioned report into ancient languages for 34 years.

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.

Ongoing research by Policy Leader Dr 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”.

Professor Neil Kenny, Lead Fellow for Languages at the British Academy and Professor of French at All Souls, Oxford, commented: “As this timely and well-researched report shows, learning languages of all kinds, ancient as well as modern, brings multiple benefits, which should be available to all. The report includes recommendations on how to improve provision and uptake of Latin and ancient Greek in primary education and beyond, and chimes with the Academy's wider UK strategy to revive language learning, published with strategy partners in 2020”.
For more information please contact:

Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson,