Thursday 21 January 2021

The Mandarin Excellence Programme is achieving its ambition to create a cohort of more than 5,000 pupils in England on the path to fluency in Mandarin, an evaluation of the Department for Education-funded programme, which is delivered by the UCL Institute of Education in partnership with the British Council, has found.

The Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP) is an intensive language programme that sees secondary school pupils studying Mandarin for eight hours a week, starting in Year 7. There are currently more than 6,500 pupils from state schools across England participating on the programme.

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

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. Key findings include:

  • The MEP remains on track to achieving its overall ambition of creating a cohort of more than 5,000 pupils in state schools in England on the path to fluency in Mandarin.
  • Pupils sitting annual Mandarin ‘Hurdle tests’ at the end of each school year are achieving excellent results.
  • The first cohort of MEP pupils who joined the programme in September 2016 are on track to obtain strong GCSE results.
  • Teachers 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.
  • The teaching hours and relatively continuous exposure to the language are unique to the MEP, and is what teachers believe is really making the difference to the speed and quality of learning outcomes.
  • The programme has multiple benefits including reinforcing language learning, offering a unique and sometimes life-changing cultural experience, and building pupils’ confidence, resilience and self-esteem.
  • The MEP can be seen as 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 implement the delivery of an intensive, high-quality language programme.
  • The MEP is having a positive impact on the supply of Mandarin teachers by increasing the number of opportunities for teaching practice. In the 2019/20 academic year MEP schools offered twenty placements to Mandarin PGCE students.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Foreign languages are hugely important in today’s global economy and Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world. 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.”

Katharine Carruthers, Mandarin Excellence Programme Strategic Director at UCL Institute of Education, 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. We now have almost 7,000 pupils studying Chinese on the MEP who really are achieving excellence. The schools and the Mandarin teachers who are at the forefront of delivering the programme should be congratulated on making the programme such a triumph and the students should be immensely proud of their progress.”

Mark Herbert, Director of Schools & TVET at the British Council, said: “The Mandarin Excellence Programme has met its ambition to put more than 5,000 pupils on the path to fluency in Mandarin, which is one of the most important languages for young people in the UK to learn right now. 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.”

Notes to Editor

For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact Amber Mezbourian in the British Council press office (

The following spokespeople are available for interview:

  • Rebecca Nicoletti and Kieron Culligan, evaluation report authors
  • Katharine Carruthers, MEP Strategic Director, UCL Institute of Education

Download the evaluation report:

Find out more about the Mandarin Excellence Programme:

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.

About UCL – London’s Global University

UCL is a diverse community with the freedom to challenge and think differently. 

Our community of more than 41,500 students from 150 countries and over 12,500 staff pursues academic excellence, breaks boundaries and makes a positive impact on real world problems.

We are consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the world and are one of only a handful of institutions rated as having the strongest academic reputation and the broadest research impact.

We have a progressive and integrated approach to our teaching and research – championing innovation, creativity and cross-disciplinary working.

We teach our students how to think, not what to think, and see them as partners, collaborators and contributors.

For almost 200 years, we are proud to have opened higher education to students from a wide range of backgrounds and to change the way we create and share knowledge.

We were the first in England to welcome women to university education and that courageous attitude and disruptive spirit is still alive today. We are UCL.| Follow @uclnews on Twitter | Watch our YouTube channel | Listen to UCL podcasts on SoundCloud | Find out what’s on at UCL Minds | #MadeAtUCL

Find out how UCL is helping lead the global fight against COVID-19