Institute of Education


IOE-led Mandarin language programme for schools awarded funding for a further three years

18 August 2021

An innovative language programme led by UCL Institute of Education (IOE), which has helped thousands of school pupils in England learn Mandarin Chinese, has been awarded a further three years’ funding.

Mandarin teacher pointing at board. Image: Phil Meech Photography

The Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP), delivered by the IOE’s Confucius Institute for Schools in partnership with the British Council and funded by the Department for Education, is set to welcome a new cohort of pupils this September. The MEP launched in 2016, initially for four years, and successfully achieved the goal of getting more than 5,000 pupils on track to fluency in Mandarin by 2020.

Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world and, according to British Council research, one of the most important languages for Britain’s future. So far around 6,500 pupils across England have benefitted from the more intensive language learning programme, which starts in Year 7.

Around 2,000 new Year 7 pupils will join the programme each year from September 2021, from 75 schools across England. They will receive intensive Mandarin learning made up of four taught hours and four hours of self-study – significantly more time than most schools spend on a language. This will include the provision of innovative online and blended learning and training making best use of technology.

A key part of the programme will be a two-week residential intensive-learning course in China for Year 9 pupils. International trips with a strong focus on language and culture can offer unique and sometimes life-changing experiences, building confidence and resilience and shaping future study and career choices. The British Council has previously found that nearly two thirds of language students at university were inspired to study a language degree because of an international exchange trip whilst at school.

Katharine Carruthers, Director of the UCL IOE Confucius Institute said: “I am delighted that UCL Institute of Education and the British Council have been selected to deliver the next phase of the Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP). This is an exciting and ground-breaking initiative – nothing else like it exists. Over the last five years, MEP schools and teachers have achieved fantastic outcomes with their pupils, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to achieve success and to develop more fluent Mandarin speakers over the coming years.”

The IOE will continue to develop a motivated and sustainable network of Chinese language teachers, with 20 new teachers to be recruited annually through the PGCE Mandarin pathway. Many of the teachers trained on the pathway are recruited by MEP schools.

For more than 15 years, the IOE and the British Council have led the way in introducing and spreading innovation in Mandarin provision, with national initiatives including work to secure a major expansion in the teaching and learning of Mandarin Chinese throughout the English school system, the PGCE Mandarin pathway, Chinese teaching assistants, and the Mandarin Speaking Competition. Together the IOE and the British Council have successfully delivered the MEP from 2016 to 2021, achieving the aim of getting more than 5,000 pupils on track to fluency in Mandarin.

Nick Gibb, Minister of State for School Standards, said: “The Mandarin Excellence Programme has enabled more than 6,000 pupils in over 70 schools to learn one of the great world languages. Committing to eight hours a week of study, these pupils are on their way to fluency in Mandarin. It has been a hugely successful programme, which is why I’m delighted to be able to announce its continuation and a further £16.4 million of funding.”

Mark Herbert, Director Schools and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) at the British Council, said: “Mandarin is one of the languages that matter most to the UK’s prosperity, and the British Council is delighted to continue its involvement in the Mandarin Excellence Programme. Over the coming years, this programme will help thousands of young people in England to develop the language expertise and intercultural skills which will open the door to a whole world of study and career opportunities.”



Phil Meech Photography