Students practise Chinese calligraphy ©

British Council

Tuesday 17 October 2023


For the first time since the Covid pandemic, 132 students from five schools across England are embarking on a school trip to China as part of a flagship language learning programme.

Since its inception in 2016, the Mandarin Excellence Programme has empowered more than 11,000 young learners in England on the path to fluency in Mandarin Chinese. Funded by the Department for Education and delivered by the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society in partnership with the British Council, it gives pupils an unprecedented opportunity when it comes to language learning.

The trip marks a significant milestone as the first international school tour organised under the Mandarin Excellence Programme since 2019. Pupils will venture to Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Chengdu over the course of nine days engaging in an extensive programme with pupils in connected Chinese schools, all of which incorporate cultural exchange, friendship building and language learning at their core. Activities include language learning and cultural lessons, ranging from calligraphy and cooking to sporting and arts activities, including martial arts and dancing. In the afternoons, students take part in excursions where they can practise their Mandarin with Chinese people.   

The schools taking part are Finham Park School in Coventry, Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Walsall, Alexandra Park School in London, St Mary Magdalene Academy in London and Dartford Grammar School in Kent. Students will fly to China on Thursday (October 19th).

Andrew, a year 10 pupil from Dartford Grammar School, said: “It’s my first experience of going to Asia and because it’s a very different culture, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m most looking forward to visiting the Great Wall of China. Ever since I started learning Mandarin Chinese in year 7 it’s fascinated me.

“I think while we’re in China there will be less of an emphasis on passing exams but more on learning about the Chinese way of life, so we might learn more idiomatic phrases and about the culture. It’s a really good opportunity and if any future students at my school or any others take Chinese and are presented with the opportunity to either visit or to live and work in China for a longer period, I would highly recommend that they take it.”

Mili, a year 10 pupil from Alexandra Park School, said: “It’s really exciting because you’re meeting new people and you’re talking in a language that, up until three years ago, you didn’t really know… it’s like ‘oh wow, this is actually pretty impressive and amazing that we’ve had the opportunity to do this!’”.

“I’m excited but nervous because you’re by yourself and your parents aren’t there and you’re going out into the world and doing stuff… but also, when are you going to have the chance to do something like this again, right?”

Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world and is recognised as a valuable skill for young people in the UK to acquire. Research by the British Council found that Mandarin is the second most important foreign language for the UK’s influence on the global stage.

Shannon West, the British Council’s Head of UK Schools, said: “The visit to China offers students an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in this vibrant and dynamic culture, practise their Mandarin skills as well as their inter-cultural skills. 

“This unique experience will stay with them for life and will motivate them to continue their studies and build lasting people to people links between the UK and China.”

Katharine Carruthers, the Mandarin Excellence Programme’s Strategic Director from the IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, said: “We are delighted that some MEP students are able to visit China for the first time since 2019 through the Mandarin Excellence Programme. The MEP students are the next generation of fluent Mandarin speakers in the UK. 

“This is a wonderful opportunity for them to experience China in person through real-life situations, advancing their language skills and motivating them to continue with their Chinese language studies into future years.”

Notes to Editor

For more information, pictures, interviews, and other media requests, please contact Richard Evans, British Council Media Manager: +44 (0)7759 717 810 |

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We do this through our work in arts and culture, education and the English language. We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2022–23 we reached 600 million people.

About UCL

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