STATE school pupils in Oxfordshire are to be given the chance to learn Chinese with the launch of a new language centre.

Two independent schools – Radley College near Abingdon and Oxford High School – will host the Oxford Swire Chinese Language Centre.

But rather than teaching being restricted to their pupils it will be opened up to state schools across the county.

It is hoped that both primary and secondary school youngsters will be able to learn the language as part of the curriculum or as an extra curricular activity.

Oxford High School headteacher Judith Carlisle said: "We are delighted to be working with Radley College and the Swire Chinese Language Foundation.

"Oxford High School has a long history of teaching Mandarin to all age groups from A-Level to reception age children and we find that even the youngest pupils love the complexity and beauty of the Chinese language.

"We already work collaboratively with Radley College on our sixth form programmes, so this opportunity to share our combined expertise and joy for learning with local school partners in Oxfordshire is extremely exciting."

The centre will fully launch in September and will be part of a network hosted at 12 secondary schools in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Oxfordshire.

It is hoped further centres will be established in coming years to create an even bigger network and give more pupils the chance to learn about the Chinese language and culture.

Radley College warden John Moule said: "It is a very exciting opportunity to pioneer a partnership between independent and maintained schools in an area of real educational and cultural interest.

"It is a powerful and exciting vision and we would love to hear from local schools in Oxfordshire, both primary and secondary, that would like to get involved."

The centre will be funded the the Swire Group for at least 10 years and is part of the Swire Chinese Language Programme, established to mark the 200th anniversary of the group.

The Swire Group is a multinational conglomerate that operates in areas including road transport, shipping and agricultural activities.

Oxford High School deputy headteacher Dr Peter Secker said the centre would open up opportunities to pupils to learn a language that is not taught as widely as others.

He said: "The centre will create opportunities to reach pupils in a variety of schools across the county and give them a window into another language and culture.

"By studying Chinese, pupils will learn a new language with tones and new characters, unlike the more common languages learnt in schools.

"More than one billion people speak Chinese, and by studying it pupils begin to see the possibilities that might exist for them in their future careers and lives."

Schools that want to take part should contact Radley College or Oxford High School.