THE number of Chinese language assistants in Scottish schools is on the increase after several years of decline.

The British Council Scotland (BCS) said there had been a doubling of requests from schools for dedicated staff as part of an expansion of Mandarin and Cantonese language learning.

This year, there were just five Chinese language assistants working in Scotland with cutbacks blamed for the decline.

It was feared numbers might drop further, but councils have so far requested 10 for next year.

Although the numbers are small, the impact such assistants can have is significant because they work across a number of schools in a council area.

Chinese language assistants also work from the growing network of Confucius classrooms at secondary schools which teach Mandarin as well as calligraphy, dance, music and traditions such as the tea ceremony.

The increase was welcomed by Sarah Breslin, director of Scotland's National Centre for Languages, based at Strathclyde University. The centre is also home to the Confucius Institute for Scotland's Schools which manages the school hubs.

"Mandarin is a fledgling language in Scotland and we have not been training teachers of Chinese for that long so it cannot grow suddenly," said Mrs Breslin.

"What we are trying to do is encourage young people to consider Chinese and working with schools to give them the support they need.

"We are seeing a lot of interest at primary level and in secondary numbers overall are up which is a very positive sign."

Mrs Breslin said the extra Chinese language assistants would be invaluable to grow the language further.

Lloyd Anderson, director of the BCS, which supplies schools with foreign language assistants, said: "We believe foreign language assistants bring a cultural dimension to language learning that enthuses and inspires young people to take their study of languages to the highest levels."

"Foreign language assistants also enable young Scots to interact with people from other countries and cultures a vital skill in the globalised economy of the 21st century. There are few more important partners for us than China and, while the number of children in Scotland learning Mandarin is rising, the number is still far too small."

Earlier this year it emerged that the number of foreign language assistants across Scotland had risen for the first time in seven years following a campaign to reverse a steep decline.