A leading independent secondary school in the English seaside resort of Brighton has become the first in Britain to make Putonghua lessons compulsory. Richard Cairns, newly appointed headmaster of Brighton College, said the move reflected China's growing influence in the world, and the reality it would overtake Britain's traditional economic partners such as Europe and the US. 'We need to learn how to trade with China, so my aim is to make sure all our kids leave here with some knowledge of Mandarin Chinese,' Mr Cairns told the South China Morning Post yesterday. 'The priority is to prepare our students for the real world.' The school, in the county of East Sussex, will begin teaching Putonghua to all its students, aged 13 to 18, from September. Thanks largely to recent government initiatives, Putonghua is offered as an optional subject at a growing number of British schools, both state and private. 'In Britain, we have traditionally been Anglo-Saxon-centric,' said Mr Cairns, a former Oxford University historian. 'We know a bit about America and a bit about Australia, but virtually nothing about the Far East, so there will be a strong historical and cultural element to our Chinese-language curriculum.' He said the decision had been well received, not least by the 20 native Chinese speakers among the co-educational school's 1,200 fee-paying students. 'I hope our Chinese students will help their classmates get to grips with what I imagine might be a rather challenging experience,' he said.