The Schools Secretary also says every secondary school pupil should have the right to learn an “up and coming” language.
The Government also wants to encourage primary schools to offer languages such as Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic, as well as French and German, from next year, when learning the subject becomes compulsory for all children from the age of seven.
The moves follow a survey by business leaders showing that Mandarin is the third most popular language demanded by employers – pushing Spanish into fourth place.
The seven languages most popularly demanded by employers are French, German, Mandarin/Cantonese, Spanish, Polish, Russian and Arabic.
Already one in seven secondary schools offers its pupils the chance to learn Mandarin.
However, few youngsters follow it through to getting a qualification in the language at GCSE level.
Ministers acknowledge that it will not be possible to appoint a qualified Mandarin or Arabic teacher to every secondary school.
However, they believe both primary and secondary schools could have access to the growing number of specialist languages college set up around the country – which already have to ensure their pupils take at least two languages at GCSE.
“In this new decade our ties with emerging economies like China will become even more important and it’s vital that young people are equipped with the skills which they need, and British business need too, in order to succeed in a rapidly changing world,” Mr Balls said yesterday.
“That’s why we want all secondary pupils to have the opportunity to learn up and coming languages like Mandarin if they choose, either at their own school or a nearby school or college.”
He added: “A growing number of schools are now teaching Mandarin and in the coming years I think we will see this subject sitting alongside French, Spanish and German as one of the most popular languages for young people to learn.”
A study by the Confederation of British Industry reported that the potential of new markets in China was “leading a significant proportion of firms (38 per cent) to recruit staff who speak Mandarin or Cantonese”. The CBI added: “Many firms are also looking for staff with language skills to help them build on their links with markets in Japan and Korea.”
Meanwhile, ministers have dropped a plan to give schools cash incentives for improving their pupils’ performance in national curriculum tests.
Under it, schools would receive financial rewards based on the percentage of pupils who caught up in class after being behind national standards in the three Rs when they joined.
A survey showed most teachers were alienated by the idea of “payment by results” and that only 14 per cent thought the scheme improved results.
They were also sceptical of the Government’s plan to let pupils take their national curriculum tests when their teachers believed they were ready for them, rather than have national tests for 11-year-olds all on the same day.
Only 25 per cent of teachers in a pilot of the scheme were convinced that it would improve performance. The pilot will be continued, though, with schools able to select how they test their pupils.
The “magnificent seven” languages most demanded by British employers are:
*French – sought by 52 per cent.
*German – 42 per cent.
*Mandarin/Cantonese – 38 per cent.
*Spanish – 28 per cent.
*Polish – 22 per cent.
*Russian – 21 per cent.
*Arabic – 15 per cent.