Chinese A-level has overtaken German for the first time, as it becomes the UK’s third most popular language.
This year 3,334 students took Chinese A-level, compared to 3,058 taking German. While entries for Chinese have increased by 8.6 percent since last year, German entries have declined by 16.5 percent.
Derek Richardson, the senior responsible officer at Pearson, said Chinese has “bucked the trend” of the fall in popularity of modern languages.
“In languages we are seeing some significant decreases in entries for the main modern languages: French, German and Spanish,” he said
"But what we are also seeing is an increase in entries across some of the other languages that people study.
“What this means is Chinese…is now more popular than German. So maybe young people are beginning to think about what languages will be useful to them in the future.”
French remains the most popular modern language A-level followed by Spanish, but both have seen a fall in entries compared to last year by eight and four percent respectively.
Russian has also increased in popularity since last year by 3.4 percent, from 1,122 to 1,160. Arabic, however, has declined by 5.4 percent, from 782 entries last year to 740 this year.
Suzanne O'Farrell, curriculum and assessment specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "We're seeing German just moving into extinction really. It is in severe decline."
Barnaby Lenon, chair of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said that whereas pupils used to be told “It will really help your career if you learn German” this is no longer the case.
“In the 1960s, 70s and even the 80s, Germany was the economic powerhouse of Europe,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“Pupils were strongly encouraged to study German because of the importance of the German economy. Although it is still strong, that argument has faded, and China has emerged in the last 25 years as the fastest growing economy in the world.”
Mr Lenon, a former headmaster at Harrow School, said the rise in Chinese A-levels is partly driven by private schools, many of which have invested in the subject in recent years.
“It is not the case that large number of states schools are now teaching Chinese A-levels. They are not,” he said.
He said many of the entries will be Chinese native speakers, adding that independent schools have attracted “large numbers” of Chinese pupils in recent years.
Aspirational middle class families sending their children to be educated in the UK has fuelled a steady increase in Chinese students, with number at fee-paying schools almost doubling in five years according to ISC data.
Mark Herbert, director of schools and skills at the British Council, welcomed the rise in Chinese A-level entries.
“Against this overall downward trend, the increasing popularity of Chinese proves that our young people can be enthused to study languages,” he said.
“Our research shows that Mandarin will be one of the most important languages for the UK’s future prosperity and global standing – but we mustn’t neglect Spanish, French and German which will still be vital post-Brexit.”
Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “It has never been more important for young people to learn a foreign language than now.
“An outward looking global nation needs a new generation of young people comfortable with the language and culture of our overseas trading partners.”