Chancellor George Osborne has announced a £10 million boost to Mandarin teaching in English schools, with the aim of having 5,000 more pupils learning the language by 2020.
The Chancellor suggested that Mandarin – which is spoken in large areas of China – could be more useful to young people than traditional options such as French or German.
Speaking during a five-day tour of China, Mr Osborne said the cash would be used to recruit and train more staff to teach Mandarin to GCSE level in state schools across the UK.
Around two per cent of primary schools and five per cent of state secondaries offered Chinese as a curriculum subject last year.
But in a speech to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Mr Osborne revealed that his daughter Liberty is one of the growing number of children taking a Mandarin course.
“In Britain, there is a hunger to learn more and understand more about this great civilisation,” he told his audience of Chinese financiers.
“I see it at home in Downing Street every night as my 12-year-old daughter does her Mandarin homework.”
Education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “The relationship between UK and China is vital to our growing economy, which is why we want even more young people, from all backgrounds, to have the opportunity to learn Mandarin.
“Teaching pupils these important language skills will ensure they leave school not just with an excellent education but fully prepared to compete in the global race.”
But Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, was critical of the plans. “The broader picture is that schools are struggling to recruit language teachers because there are simply not enough teachers entering the system,” she said.
“Children should be able to come into contact with and decide between studying a range of languages. Decisions about which languages are offered at primary and secondary level should not be limited by a narrow definition of economic utility or academic importance. Still less should they be constrained because the government has failed in its duty to ensure there are adequate numbers of teachers within the system.
“A small boost in funding which is only limited to Mandarin teaching is not going to come close to solving the serious and fundamental problem of teacher supply.”