Schools import China's teachers for lessons in 'language of tomorrow'

24 May 2007 • by Natalie Aster

All the country's 250 specialist language schools have been told by a government adviser that they should put Mandarin on the curriculum as "the language of tomorrow", reported The Independent.

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said it should be seen as the key language for future generations to learn - replacing European languages.

The trust, which represents 90 per cent of England's 2,950 state secondary schools, has clinched a deal with the Chinese government, which will send 200 teachers a year over to the UK to teach Mandarin in schools. Pupil exchanges are also being arranged, Sir Cyril revealed at a meeting of the Commons Select Committee on Education yesterday.

He told MPs: "I want all language colleges to be teaching Mandarin. It is a strategic world language. The difficulty in the past has been getting Chinese teachers. However, exchanges between our schools and Chinese schools will help to change that. We learn from them and they learn from us."

Around 4,000 pupils in the UK are studying GCSE Chinese. However, most of them are of Chinese origin and Sir Cyril wants to extend its take-up.

Richard Cairns, headmaster of Brighton College - the independent school which became the first school in the country to make the language compulsory for all pupils and introduced it to youngsters from the age of three - said he believed it would replace German in the "pecking order" of languages.

Sir Cyril added: "The state of modern language teaching in this country means we need to do a lot more to promote it. I'd like to see all language colleges having Mandarin on the curriculum as soon as possible and I'd like to extend it to a number of other schools as well."

In his government inquiry into language teaching, Lord Dearing successfully argued that ministers should drop the requirement for all schools to teach a European language from the ages of 11 and 14. Instead, they should be allowed to include Mandarin, Arabic and Urdu on the list of languages that could be taught.

Answering questions from MPs, Sir Cyril also called for schools to use a lottery to determine admissions if they were oversubscribed. He said he would like to see all specialist schools and academies introduce "fair banding" - taking an equal number of pupils from each of several different ability bands.

"If a school is oversubscribed, random allocation could be used," he added.

Brighton became the first authority in the country to plan the introduction of ballots earlier this year - but the proposal prompted an outcry from parents who believed their children could be denied a place even if they lived near the school.

Sir Cyril argued, though, that it was fair and was already being practised successfully by the Haberdashers' Aske's Academy in Lewisham, south London.

He also said that many of the country's brightest pupils were being denied the chance to succeed at A-level - because they had to switch school at 16.

"Half of our secondary schools are for 11 to 16-year-olds," he said. "Only 20 per cent of the very able children get three A grades at A-level if they move school at 16."

He said schools should work in partnership in their neighbourhoods to ensure post-16 courses for all pupils locally.