School pupil in England learns Mandarin Chinese  ©

Philip Meech Photography

Students would never have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for the Mandarin Excellence Programme. Many have never been out of their home country, or on a plane before.

Vanessa Priest, teacher at Linhall School in Coventry, UK 


Life cycle

2016 - present


China and UK


Department for Education (DfE)


To boost the career opportunities of young people by connecting students to a new language and culture.


Learning Mandarin Chinese presents students with the opportunity to improve their career prospects and learn about different cultures. In 2018, a survey carried out by YouGov for the programme revealed that 66 per cent of British Business leaders found it difficult to recruit people fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Three out of four believed that the choice of language subjects in schools should reflect important potential growth markets. Using our expertise in language learning around the world, we helped to develop the Mandarin Excellence Programme to support young people and provide them with the opportunity to learn a new language. 


We work alongside the University College of London’s Institute of Education, to deliver the unique yet intensive language programme to enable UK schools and provide students with eight intensive hours of study per week. This comprises four hours of classroom-taught lessons and four hours of extracurricular activity. A two-week Intensive Learning Language Course is then completed by students in China, hosted by HanBan and Chinese Universities in their second year of the programme. 

As a result of the teaching, and with the support of their school, pupils are expected to be on track to complete their GSCE/A Level equivalent awards, and eventually achieve HSK level four or five (an exam testing students’ abilities in everyday Mandarin Chinese).


The Mandarin Excellence Programme saw over 5000 pupils on track to achieving fluency in Mandarin in 2020, with 76 schools enrolled from September 2019. The programme has been widely promoted, with 114 pieces of press and broadcast coverage since September 2016, reaching a potential audience of over 13.9 million. 

From a recent external evaluation, results indicated that most teachers agree that there is a huge difference in the speed and quality of learning outcomes amongst MEP pupils, relative to those on less intensive courses. 

While the availability of teachers remains a challenge to the teaching of Mandarin inside and outside the programme, the expansion of teaching and training opportunities positively supports wider attempts to increase teacher supply. The active support of the University College London Institute of Education to solve issues around teacher sourcing is widely appreciated and valued, as is the Institute’s more general input and support to all areas of the programme. 

Mutual benefit

Mandarin Chinese has been identified as one of the most important languages for the UK’s prosperity. The Mandarin Excellence Programme provides students with the opportunity to acquire language skills at an early stage, giving them an advantage in future careers. This benefits both British businesses and the economy. 

Schools and students work with other hub schools in their region to share ideas and resources. Everyone in the UK who learns Mandarin builds another link between the UK and China, encouraging greater understanding and mutuality between both countries.