For the Year of the Rat, Shevington High students practised Chinese crafts such as calligraphy, greeted pandas in assembly, ate traditional Chinese food, prepared in an evening showcase for parents, visited Manchester’s Chinatown and learnt a song to celebrate the occasion.

The pupils are part of the Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP), a flagship government language programme that this year will see 5,000 pupils from 76 schools across England on track to fluency in Mandarin Chinese.

The programme is funded by the Department for Education and delivered by the UCL Institute of Education and the British Council. Pupils spend an average of eight hours a week studying Mandarin to help them reach a high level of language ability.

Headteacher Julian Grant said: “We are delighted to be part of the Mandarin Excellence programme, which is equipping our pupils with essential language skills for the future. Our Chinese New Year celebrations helped bring Chinese culture to life and will get pupils excited about using Mandarin in a real-life situation.”

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world and is seen as important for young people in the UK to master so that the country remains globally competitive in the future.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Young people fluent in Mandarin will be at a significant advantage when competing for jobs with their peers from around the world. The enthusiasm and energy of pupils on the Mandarin Excellence Programme is inspiring and will help build a Britain that’s fit for the future in an increasingly global economy.”

Katharine Carruthers, Director, UCL IOE Confucius Institute for Schools said: “Learners have made exceptional progress through the Mandarin Excellence Programme. There are now more than 5,000 pupils participating in this intensive national programme which uses innovative teaching practices and results in great success and benefits for both students and teachers.

“The MEP is preparing a cadre of young people for a future where being able to speak Mandarin Chinese will be of huge benefit to themselves and for the UK.”

Mark Herbert, Director of Schools and Skills at the British Council, said: “By learning a foreign language such as Mandarin, pupils develop the knowledge and skills to work with other cultures and people.

“In our interconnected world, language skills are vital for our young people and the country as a whole.”