IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Mandarin programme putting thousands of pupils ‘on path to fluency’

21 January 2021

Nearly 7,000 pupils are now benefitting from a national Mandarin learning initiative delivered by UCL Institute of Education (IOE), in partnership with the British Council, according to a new Department for Education report.

Mandarin teacher pointing at board. Image: Phil Meech Photography

The Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP) gives participating secondary schools the chance to offer an intensive language learning option alongside the traditional staples of French, Spanish and German.

It offers secondary state school pupils across England the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese for eight hours a week, starting in Year 7.

An evaluation report published today (Thursday 21 January) shows the programme, which began in 2016, has exceeded its target of seeing at least 5,000 pupils in England on track towards fluency in the language by 2020.

It also reveals the positive impact the MEP has had on the supply of Mandarin teachers, by increasing the number of opportunities for teaching practice. 

Mandarin is the most-spoken language in the world and British Council research has identified it as the second most important language for the UK’s future prosperity, security and influence globally.

The MEP aims to be a catalyst and accelerator for the uptake of Mandarin in the state sector, with the financial and teaching support it offers enabling schools to quickly set up an intensive, high-quality language programme. 

The evaluation found the MEP has multiple benefits alongside reinforcing language learning, including offering a unique and sometimes life-changing cultural experience, and building pupils’ confidence, resilience and self-esteem.

Teachers have reported that pupils on the programme demonstrate increased and accelerated learning and a much broader language and cultural knowledge base relative to non-MEP learners. It was found to allow students to see and practise Mandarin as a living global language.

Pupil writing Mandarin characters. Image: Phil Meech Photography

Katharine Carruthers, Mandarin Excellence Programme Strategic Director at UCL Institute of Education and Pro-Vice-Provost for East Asia, said: “The first four years of the Mandarin Excellence Programme have been a tremendous success and I am delighted that the independent evaluation published today reflects that.

“The schools and the Mandarin teachers who are at the forefront of delivering the programme should be congratulated on making it such a triumph, and the students should be immensely proud of their progress.”

The MEP evaluation report looks at the impact of the first four years of the programme, from September 2016 to the end of March 2020. 

It found the first cohort of MEP pupils who joined the programme in September 2016 are on course for good grades at GCSE, with pupils sitting annual Mandarin ‘Hurdle tests’ at the end of each school year achieving excellent results.

In the 2019/20 academic year MEP schools offered twenty placements to PGCE students training to teach Mandarin.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “The 7,000 students on the programme are building outstanding fluency in both written and spoken language and are giving themselves a valuable edge when competing for jobs with their peers from around the world.

“I am particularly pleased to see there are several schools in disadvantaged areas which have embraced the programme, demonstrating its ability to raise expectations across the country and make sure every young person has access to the same opportunities, no matter where they grow up.”

Mark Herbert, Director of Schools & TVET at the British Council, said: “Speaking another language brings many benefits, from boosting job prospects to connecting with different cultures. The MEP will help to build stronger links and mutual trust between the UK and China, which is essential for future trade, prosperity and cooperation.”

The IOE Confucius Institute for Schools (IOE CI) is the lead delivery partner for the Mandarin Excellence Programme. It is a bilateral project with Peking University (PKU) and Peking University High School and supported by the Office of Chinese Language Council International, Hanban.

The IOE CI supports schools in the sustainable development of the teaching and learning of Mandarin Chinese and the study of China across other areas of the curriculum.

The MEP forms a part of UCL and PKU’s broader strategic partnership, with links spanning all four UCL Schools and eight faculties.



Phil Meech Photography