Latin language teaching and the student experience

Students who come to study Latin at university arrive with an increasingly diverse range of qualifications (sometimes with no Latin at all). While this diversity is celebrated, it also presents challenges for universities aiming to integrate students quickly and acclimatise them to university-style learning. The dynamics of Latin language classes mean that gaps in knowledge and experience are publicly visible, making this a social problem as much an academic one.

To address this problem, the Latin department started a three-year project in 2012, led by Dr Emma Buckley and Alice Konig. The goal of the project was to systematically examine the different educational backgrounds of students from the major English, Scottish, European and North American school systems. Part of the project’s brief was to look particularly closely into the experience of Scottish students, but their findings have implications for Latin teaching in universities across the UK and beyond.

The project’s objective was to detect the main linguistic strengths and weaknesses in various cohorts of students and pinpoint the gaps between school and university Latin learning.

By using questionnaires and diagnostic tests, the project assessed the linguistic strengths and weaknesses (real and perceived) of students from different educational backgrounds upon entering first year of university. The team also monitored students’ learning, self-perception and performance in their second, third and fourth years.

For the project, the team consulted widely with school teachers, university lecturers and qualifications authorities. They also discussed their findings at a number of conferences and workshops.


The project report (authored jointly by Emma Buckley, Alice Konig and Ana Kotarcic) was published in the Journal of Classics Teaching in April 2017.

The results of the research have allowed the School of Classics to review their teaching and assessment practices across all four years of their Latin and classics degree programmes to better support and integrate a wide variety of students. It has also allowed them to better integrate beginners Latin students with more advanced students from second year onwards. The project has created a series of recommendations that are widely applicable across the UK and beyond.

The project has highlighted the need for better communication between schools teachers, university lecturers and qualifications authorities (for example, through workshops, inset days and other outreach events).

Emma Buckley and Alice Konig were both awarded McCall MacBain teaching awards in November 2016 for this project. The awards were given in recognitions of their outstanding contributions to research-led teaching. The bursaries from these awards will fund some follow-on activities designed to enhance dialogue and collaboration between the different sectors involved in Latin language teaching at school and university. For more information, please contact the project leaders. 

Project team

Project leaders

Other contributors

  • Mary Woodcock-Kroble (School of Classics Computing Officer)
  • Ana Kotarcic (Postgraduate Research Assistant)

This project was funded by the University of St Andrews’ Strategic Enhancement of Learning Fund (SELF), administered by CAPOD (now CEED and OSDS). It was also generously supported by the School of Classics at St Andrews, with active involvement from many St Andrews colleagues. Particular mention should be made of Jason König, Nikoletta Manioti, Roger Rees, Irene Paulton and the many undergraduate students who sat diagnostic tests and completed questionnaires for the project.

During the research, the team corresponded regularly with colleagues teaching Latin in other UK classics departments, and particularly with colleagues at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow: especial thanks are due to Professor Catherine Steel, Professor Gavin Kelly and Dr Calum Maciver. The team is grateful to the many school teachers north and south of the border who have taken an interest, answered queries, filled in questionnaires and attended workshops, particularly to Edmund Faulkes, Carlijn Findlater, Andrew Lang, Wendy Main, Alan Milligan, Charlie Nicholls, George Pounder and Jennifer Shearer.

The team would also like to thank Jan Stipek, Curriculum Manager for the group 2 IB Diploma programme, who helped with research information; and Alex Orgee, in charge of the OCR Classics Consultative Forum, who allowed the team to distribute questionnaires and consult with teachers and lecturers during policy meetings 2013-2016.