Biggest ever Mandarin Excellence Programme trip sees 1,200 pupils travel to China

Mandarin Excellence Programme students in Guangzhou
Mandarin Excellence Programme students in Guangzhou

A record-breaking number of students from across England are preparing to embark on the most ambitious international school trip of its kind, as part of the UCL-led Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP).

Nearly 1,200 pupils and 157 teachers from 61 schools are jetting off to China in July for a 10-day trip to improve their Mandarin language skills and cultural awareness.

The MEP is a flagship initiative which has helped more than 11,000 young learners in England on the path to fluency in Mandarin since its launch eight years ago.

It is delivered by Ioe, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE) in partnership with the British Council and with the support of the Center for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC).

This is the first major trip to take place since the Covid-19 pandemic, following a pilot visit involving 132 students last year.

The tour will take students to cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Xi’an, Chengdu, Kunming, Shenyang, Dalian, Hangzhou, Shenyang and Guangzhou.

Katharine Carruthers (Ioe, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society), MEP Strategic Director, said: "The Mandarin Excellence Programme study visit is a fabulous opportunity for students to experience China in person and advance their language skills.

"This is an unrivalled opportunity which rewards Year 9 MEP students who have been undertaking intensive Mandarin language study in school for the past three years, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"The students will benefit from an unforgettable experience as part of their journey to becoming the next generation of fluent Mandarin speakers in the UK."

The Mandarin-learners will embark on the adventure in different travel groups. They will engage in an extensive cultural and language-learning programme, connecting with pupils in Chinese schools throughout the experience.

Mandarin is the most widely spoken native language globally and is considered a highly valuable skill for young people in the UK to learn. According to British Council research*, Mandarin ranks as the second most important foreign language for the UK’s global influence.

Tom Dearing, the British Council’s Head of UK Schools, said: "This year more students than ever before will have an unparalleled opportunity to visit China and immerse themselves in this vibrant and dynamic culture, practising their Mandarin skills as well as their intercultural skills.

"This unique experience will stay with them for life and will motivate them to continue their studies, as well as building lasting friendships between people in the UK and China." á

Ahead of the visit, Tilly, a Year 9 student from Finham Park School in Coventry, said: "It’s a huge trip. It’s taken a while to organise and we’ve had lots of meetings about it, I’m really excited. I’m a bit nervous for being away from home but I think that I’ll get over that quickly. I think it will massively affect my learning in such positive ways."

Her classmate, Vincent, added: "I don’t think I would have done this without the Mandarin Excellence Programme, it’s made me learn a lot more about China than I would have if I hadn’t taken it. It’s a very surreal experience knowing that you’re going to be on the other side of the planet. It’s a great, great opportunity."

In 2023, UCL was also selected by DfE to lead a new nationwide Language Hubs programme, providing thousands of students across England with high quality language teaching via a centre of excellence.

*British Council Languages foráthe Future report

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