A SENIOR classics teacher accused the Scottish Executive last night of lacking "the political will" to save the subject.
Alan Milligan, the principal teacher of classics at the High School of Glasgow, said ministers should be doing more to increase the popularity of Latin and Greek.
He spoke out in the wake of a decision made by Strathclyde University to suspend the only classics teacher-training course in Scotland this summer.
The Scottish Executive has instructed the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council to order institutions to run classics teacher-training courses only if there is a clear need for staff at local authority or private schools.
Ministers say there is little point in training teachers and funding their probationary year in schools at a cost of £23,000.
However, Mr Milligan, a teacher for over 20 years and the convener of the Scottish Council for Independent Schools west of Scotland classics group, said the Executive had proved in the past that it was prepared to promote subjects if there were a drop in student demand.
He also warned that there would be an adverse knock-on effect for Scotland as a whole if the classics were allowed to die off.
He said: "If the politicians feel strongly about something, they do something about it. For example, if they’re worried about the numbers doing modern languages, they introduce initiatives to raise the subject’s profile.
"But what they’ve done with the classics is neglect it," he said. "They see numbers going down, but they don’t do anything about it. There is a lack of political will.
"It will look bad for Scotland if we stop teaching our children the classics. In America, there are more people now doing Latin, and it’s the same in Germany.
"Scotland could end up looking as if we’re falling behind and not taking the classics seriously enough, unlike our competitors."
In 2002, about 700 Standard Grade pupils sat Latin and four sat classical Greek, compared with more than 39,000 for French and almost 60,000 for English.
Between 2000 and 2002, the numbers sitting a Higher in classical Greek has varied between 6 and 14. In the same period, the number of candidates for higher Latin has slumped from 346 to 257.
Mr Milligan dismissed suggestions that falling demand was down to the perception that classical studies were irrelevant in the 21st century.
He said: "Education is more than just a practical thing. You could say that algebra or even English literature have no practical application in the outside world, but they have a clear educational benefit. Latin and Greek are important in areas such as grammar, and a lot of phrases are used in computer language.
"The politicians have got to realise what is at stake if we allow the classics to slip away from the curriculum."
A spokeswoman for the Executive said a review of the school curriculum was due to be completed by the end of the year, but she would not be drawn on whether ministers would introduce any initiatives aimed at improving the popularity of classics.
However, she denied that the Executive had not done enough to promote classical studies and insisted it would be "irresponsible" to continue to train teachers in the subject in the current climate.
"It’s not as if the classics have been neglected. The problem is that there are no vacancies and there is no demand," she said.
"There will always be competing demands in various subjects, but there’s a limited amount of time in the school day and decisions have to be made about priorities."
She added: "Local authorities notify us where there are vacancies and we seek to match teacher supply to subject demand.
"Currently, there is no demand for classics and it would be irresponsible to train teachers where there are no vacancies." [Scotsman]