High Storrs, which can trace its origins in Sheffield back to 1880, is the only state-funded school in the area to still instruct students from age 12 in Latin and the classics.
But even though the language remains part of the Government’s English Baccalaureate – itself derived from the Latin – a shortage of funds has compelled its teachers to go online for the £100,000 they need to secure its future for the next decade.
Last night, two of the school’s most notable alumni – another Latin word – said they would contribute to a crowdfunding appeal to raise the money.
The businessmen Sir Andrew Cook and John Hancock, who were both taught Latin at High Storrs in the 1960s, have pledged money to protect a subject Sir Andrew said was “a buttress against barbarism”.
The former grammar school, in the prosperous south west of Sheffield, offers five languages including Urdu, but, said its Head of Classics, Gina Johnson, its Latin provision for GCSE pupils was under threat.
“The school is delighted to have us here because we’re a unique selling point – but the sticking point is money,” she said.
She conceived the crowdfunding idea after being told that the 16 students who opted for GCSE Latin next year wasn’t a big enough group. “I thought, what I need is a big pot of money so that I can negotiate with our leaders and say, ‘you pay this much and I’ll pay the rest’,” she said.
Sir Andrew, chairman of the Sheffield-based industrial group, William Cook, said: “I was dismayed to learn that Latin teaching was at risk. It is a backbone of civilisation and learning.”
He said he regretted the tendency towards “fashionable” subjects such as Media Studies in today’s curriculum.
“Any subject with the word studies in the title is a quasi subject rather than a real one,” he said, invoking more Latin.
Mr Hancock, a past chairman of the British American Business Council, who now lives in the US, added: “Knowledge of Latin disciplines the mind and helps one understand many things.”
Ms Johnson said: “State school students have just as much right to the ancient world and all it offers as fee-paying students do.
“Classics is for everyone. It forms the building blocks of modern cultures and languages.
“I think most private schools would be happy to get 16 kids.”
Appeal donations can be made at justgiving.com or by cheque.