In the last blog article on Brexit and the effect of it on education, I listed five areas in which experts in education and also students are concerned about. I will be exploring each of those areas in more detail today.
I will also be suggesting practical measures that parents can take in order to minimise any potential damage to the education of their children. Below are those key points once again.
- Exacerbation of the pre-existing difficulty which schools have in recruiting good teachers – as 15% of academic staff in UK institutions are from EU countries
- The attention of politicians will be focused on dealing with issues relating to Brexit and leaving the EU; therefore, there will be less attention devoted to schools and issues relating to the education of young people
- Less money for education and scientific research and funding of certain programmes such as the Erasmus Programme (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. The possibility that less funding will be available for schools in general. A programme of exchange for university students between European countries
- More paperwork for school visits to Europe, depriving teachers of valuable time to teach. This is in case visa restrictions are put back in place after the UK formally withdraws from the EU
- Possibility of Brexit freeing up places in schools as a result of less immigrant children being in schools (a potentially positive effect). This will happen if citizens of other European countries are asked to leave the UK after the formal withdrawal of the UK from the EU.
- Increased difficulty faced by headteachers to recruit good teachers in schools
Considering 15% of academic staff in UK institutions are from EU countries, there is a real worry about the potential impact of Brexit on the ability of headteachers to recruit the very best teachers. I have not managed to get hold of reliable data to establish the exact percentage of schoolteachers who are from EU countries and it is also not certain at present if those teachers will be allowed to stay after Britain has withdrawn from the EU.
Quoting a BBC source, in her letter to the Education Select Committee, Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, writes: “High-quality teachers are the single most important factor in determining how well pupils do in school.” I agree entirely with the education secretary. The question is, how do we find more of these good teachers and how do we ensure that the existing ones stay in the classroom? The free movement of people between EU countries widens the net from which teachers can be recruited – with little or no bureaucracy.
When there is a shortage of teachers, the top schools (mainly independent, fee paying schools), will have an even greater advantage in creaming off the top teachers from the less successful schools. As a result most schools will struggle to have the best teachers, making an already bad situation even worse. There is one factor that usually makes it easier to recruit teachers and it is likely that Brexit will bring that about. However, I’m not sure if it’s what anyone wants. I will reveal what it is and also speak about it when I discuss the fifth point. Parents have to do even more to make sure the needs of their children are being met and the provision is made to suit the ability of the particular child. The more able young people need to be stimulated and challenged, the less academic young people need to be helped and ensure they grasp the basics. If there are less good teachers to do that in schools, then parents have to work a little harder in monitoring what is actually going on and ensure that they do not get a nasty surprise at some point in the future, when it may be too late to do anything about it.
2. Less attention to school and education issues by the country’s leaders
It has been the case that in Britain in the last three or so decades, education and issues relating to schools have always been prominent in the news. Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is the most important political development in Britain for several decades and the impact of it cannot be overestimated. It is right and proper for the government – when we finally have a prime minister in place – to focus its energy on ensuring that the country continues to be prosperous after Brexit. This is a huge task and it will take many years to resolve; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that there will be less time being devoted to matters relating to the education of our young people. The economy will always be number one, as a less prosperous country will have less money to invest in education. In the mean time, children are growing older and what they need now can’t wait for another year.
It may be argued it has been a good thing that energy has been focused on improving schools and raising standards by various governments in the last few decades. It appears that, for a decade or so, we parents may not have the luxury of the helping hand that we have been getting by the media in highlighting bad performance in schools. I remain optimistic that the issue of the education of our young people is so vital that there will always be some attention given to it but I suspect it will not be as much as it used to be.
3. Less money for education and scientific research
A huge amount of money is given to scientific research by the EU every year. Let’s hope future British government maintain the same level of funding. The question you may want to ask yourself as a parent is: how can research money affect schools and younger people – is that not just for the geeks who are into scientific research? You may be quite right in asking that question but I think there will be some adverse effect if UK universities receive less funding. Below is a small list of the potential effect on the education of young people, including those who will never be interested in scientific or any educational research.
a. If there is a reduction in economic activities according to the forecast of experts – in other words, a recession – the UK government will have less money and no one has said that money given to schools will be ring-fenced. This will result in schools having less money to spend on good teachers and other resources
b. Young people who are currently in schools are future university students and the best universities are ranked based on how successful they are in research. One possibility is that the very top universities may decide to break away from government regulation and become independent. This may result in them being more selective and they may even begin to charge high fees like those universities in the US. The current average student loans may be several times what it currently is.
c. For students who are thinking of spending some of their time studying in Europe – either on school or university exchange – questions remain answered. Under the Erasmus Programme funding is provided by the EU for undergraduate students who do part of their studies in another EU country.
4. More paperwork for school visits to Europe
It is possible there will be a reduction in the number of trips that school pupils make to European countries as a result of a possible visa restriction – meaning there is the need for people from Britain to obtain a visa in order to visit European countries. If a visa restriction is placed on visitors from the United Kingdom, it means teachers will have to spend more of their valuable time on paperwork in order to organise educational or cultural visits to EU countries. The alternative to teachers having to do this work is for parents to do it. Even if the parents now deal with the issue of obtaining visas for their children, the teachers still have to check to make sure not only that every student they are taking on a trip have their passport, but also that there is a valid visa in the passport.
5. A slow down in the increased demand on schools due to less immigrants from the EU.
One of the key concerns of people who voted for Brexit raised was the undue pressure placed on schools as a result of a huge increase in the numbers of EU immigrants’ children who are taking up places in schools. This is certainly one area in which the Brexiters have got it right! Yes, irrespective of if the current EU citizen are allowed to stay in Britain after the formal withdrawal of the UK from Europe or not, I’m almost certain that there will be less people wanting to come to Britain from EU countries. It is also highly likely that many EU citizens will want to leave the UK anyway, even if they are allowed to stay, due to the atmosphere that the whole Brexit issue has created. The real question is: how many fewer EU citizens will remain in the UK in the next few years? The figure of EU nationals working in the NHS has been quoted at 110,000 but we do not know the figures for teachers, the construction industries and other areas of the economy.
I would like to draw an analogy between bad schools and a Brexit that results in a smaller economy and less people to work in key areas of the economy. When you go to the worst of our secondary schools in Britain, the classes are not overcrowded as the schools struggle to fill places for the number of students it can accommodate. It is not certain but if there is less investment in the British economy and it leads to a recession, I wonder which one people would rather have – a vibrant and prosperous economy with free movement of people from the EU, or a recession? I must say that no country can afford to have a completely open border with zero immigration control and also the UK is a small island. However, what I would say is that, at present, the UK needs those immigrants from Europe, as there are not enough indigenous people who are prepared to do the jobs that many of the EU citizens who have come over are doing. There is one factor that usually makes it easier to recruit teachers, which is recession and bad economy – do we want that? Is recession a price worth paying for increasing the chances of recruiting good teachers? In my opinion, it is likely that if we get to a situation that results in an exodus of EU citizens from the UK, the economy will suffer immensely and it will affect schools and the education of young people very badly.
It may be argued by some people that the points I’ve raised above seem to be part of the so called ‘project fear’ but that’s fine – people are entitled to their own opinion. I am a pragmatic person and I have no time whatsoever in my life for moaners. I see issues that I face as challenges and there is no point in moaning, as what has to be done is to look for practical solutions to deal with challenges. However, those issues need to be identified first before they can be dealt with. One key point that every intelligent person knows is that in the history of the UK, it always finds a way and I think Britain will do what it has always done in this current predicament: find a way.
Loss of the dynamism brought into the general economy and culture
One other point I have listed as part of the direct effect of Brexit is the dynamism that is brought into a country’s economy by immigrants. There are several aspects to this but the one I would like to point out here is in relation to schools. This dynamism and vibrancy are clearly evident in schools, where we have all heard of stories about young people who came from far away places such as Eastern Europe or even Afghanistan, knowing not-a-word of English on arrival, and within three years or so these young people have not only learnt and mastered the language, but have also excelled in all academic subjects and gone on to achieve four or more top A-level grades. I note that, according to some Brexiters, the immigration system will be made fairer after Britain withdraws from the EU because people from commonwealth countries will be allowed in the UK. I do not know if any rational and sensible people believe that for a moment!
In my next and last blog article I will look optimistically to the future and discuss how the UK can continue to be a vibrant and prosperous country after Brexit. I look forward to speaking to you soon.