... in Scotland ... from the Scotsman:

IT IS seen as the preserve of independent, fee-paying schools, but Latin is thriving at one state secondary, where it has proved more popular than French.

Nationally, the number learning the ancient language is dropping, but Kirkcaldy High is bucking the trend.

A decade ago, only four pupils there were studying Latin and classics. This year, there are more than 100 taking exams in the classics department, which has two Latin teachers.

Jennifer Shearer, the head of classics, said the school had a distinguished history of teaching Latin.

Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-century historian and philosopher, once taught the language at the school, and its former Latin students include the architect Robert Adam and the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Mrs Shearer said: "The school has one of the biggest Latin uptakes in any state Scottish school. Pupils from Europe even come here to do their sixth year because of the Latin we offer.

"Latin is far from dead - its influence reaches way beyond the limits of the subject itself.

"It helps with English, because 70 per cent of English vocabulary comes from Latin, and it accelerates the learning of other modern languages.

"In total, there are more than 700 million people in the world today whose first language is directly descendent from Latin.

"If you were to plonk a Latin pupil in one of those countries, they would be able to cope with the language."

Modern languages are compulsory to Standard grade level at Kirkcaldy, while Latin is optional, meaning the numbers taking Standard grade French far outweigh those taking Latin.

However, when pupils have a free choice at Higher level, the number taking Latin dwarfs the handful doing Higher French.

There are 103 pupils studying Latin or classical studies at Kirkcaldy High, with 16 taking a Higher.

There are a similar number taking German, while only a few have chosen French or Spanish.

Mrs Shearer said: "It can be difficult for a pupil, early in their school career, to decide which subjects to take - will they be relevant to anything they may eventually want to pursue as a career path?

"If they study Latin, no matter what they eventually become, the things they learn in Latin can be applied to any other subject. Latin can never be a wrong choice."

According to the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the number of pupils taking Higher Latin has remained roughly stable over the past seven years. Some 234 pupils are due to take it this school year. But the overall number sitting Latin exams, including Standard grade and Intermediate courses, has dropped from 945 last year to 847.

Dr Peter Jones, a former professor of classics at Newcastle University and spokesman for the Joint Association of Classics Teachers, said: "The problem is teachers. Strathclyde is the only university in Scotland that trains Latin teachers and they only do it now and again, depending on need.

"In England, only London University and Cambridge train 30 Latin teachers a year between them. However, there are 150 advertisements for Latin teachers each year."

He also expressed concern that the Classical Greek Standard grade in Scotland is under threat. He said: "It is not a dead language - it is immortal. So much of our culture derives from the Greek and Roman worlds. The whole idea of empire, democracy and republicanism and Europe - all this derives from the ancient world."

The SQA confirmed the subject was under review as fewer than nine pupils had chosen the subject for the past three years. A spokesman said: "It clearly does have very small numbers, but decisions are made not just on the numbers but on other factors."