LATIN and ancient Greek are on course to die out as academic subjects in Scotland according to leading education figures.
The prediction comes in the wake of Strathclyde University’s decision to scrap the last available course for students to qualify as classics teachers.
Fiona Hyslop, the SNP’s education spokeswoman, warned that the decision is a turning point in Scottish education. "This is a short-sighted approach that could kill off the classics in Scotland. We need to look at creative and inventive ways of sustaining these subjects," she said.
"At a time when we are looking to bring in more diversity in Scottish education and there’s a growing demand for thinking skills, we need to think again.
"As somebody who did Higher Latin, I would say it was one of the most useful subjects I did."
Judith Sischy, the director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, said that news of the planned axing of the course at Strathclyde has upset many heads of classics departments.
She said: "I don’t feel there has been sufficient consultation, and it seems premature when I understand that in Europe and the US the classics are coming back into fashion and being revived."
Predicting that schools may have to recruit teachers from south of the Border, Mrs Sischy said: "As a nation, we should be able to cover all these subjects. I think feelings will be strong if we lose this course for ever."
She suggested that the private and state sector could pool teachers in minority subjects, in order to retain a spectrum of choice for pupils. Schools could become specialist centres for classes on campus and possibly online.
Kristina Woolnough, the chairwoman of Parents in Partnership, said that many parents may be saddened by the disappearance of the classics from the curriculum.
"Any reductions in pupils’ options would be a severe loss, and loss of these subjects has a particular price."
Ms Woolnough pointed out that knowledge of Latin and Greek is important and useful when studying subjects such as law, botany, modern languages and medicine.
She added that they also offer students a better understanding of the English language.
Calling for a wider debate on the future of classics, Ms Woolnough said: "If Scotland wants to consider itself part of Europe, classics does offer the linguistic basis. It shows a willingness to take on all languages."
Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said that the declining number of pupils and students reading the classics at school and university suggests that it could be too late to prevent them disappearing from the curriculum in Scottish schools.
She said: "I think the classics are gone, and I don’t think most people are going to care a tuppeny toss. People have voted with their feet.
"These subjects are not seen as having market value. This is the market economy in action."
In 2000, 346 candidates sat Higher Latin, but two years later the numbers had dropped to just 257. Mrs Gillespie added that Scotland is poorer for the decline of classics: "I think we have lost an important link with a previous culture, and one of the great benefits was that it encouraged a rigour of thinking, a discipline and an exactness. There is too much sloppiness now."
David Eaglesham, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, who studied both Latin and Greek, said he personally would be saddened by the possible disappearance of the classics. But he added that schools were also gaining new subjects such as computing.
Announcing the funds for each higher-education institution yesterday, Roger McClure, chief executive of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council said universities across the UK have taken "tough decisions" to concentrate their funds on areas of greatest demand.
Departments such as chemistry and physics have been closed, and many departments have pooled their resources with departments in other universities.
Citing Polish as a minority subject "for which demand may increase as new countries join the EC", he said the funding council and institutions may consult on ways to protect certain subjects for the long term.
Tony Williams, who runs the Strathclyde classics course, was unavailable for comment.
Academics and other supporters have begun writing to the Scottish Executive in a move to save the course due to be axed this summer.