The Brexit Vote: Education.

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

Just like every other field of work and social life, the impact which Brexit will have on our education system is uncertain.

The long term implications remain speculative and not only are EU teachers and students unaware of what to expect, neither do the British. Amid political machinations, turmoil and a sense of national adrift, it is clear the education system will have things change in big ways, and in small.

What will happen to the EU students who currently study in British schools?

And the British students studying across the EU?

And, what about the thousands of EU nationals who teach in Britain?


In 1992, the first major revision to the Single European Act allowed for ‘the free movement of goods, services, capital and workers.’ It is the movement of workers which was a key issue underpinning the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum. For those with a stake in the UK education system, the uncertainty is a source of current anxiety.

Regarding teaching staff, further clarification is needed on how withdrawal from the EU will affect employment. With unclear agreements on paid tax and status of residency, many EU nationals teaching in the UK may feel compelled to relocate. Another issue concerning teachers is that of teaching qualifications. According to Celsian Education, since 1997, the UK has recognised over 142,000 EU professional qualifications and other EU member states have recognised 27,000 UK qualifications.

The Department for Education have published a page on the gov website regarding the UK leaving the EU. It says that through application of the EU Settlement Scheme, citizens of the EU will be able to continue living in the UK after 2020; deal or no deal.

Brexit, The Elections & Education?

With a general election on the horizon, it’s time to delve into the various party manifestos.

The Conservative Manifesto do not discuss the recruitment of teachers in great depth. However they do say,

“We will bear down on unnecessary paperwork and the burden of Ofsted inspections and create a single jobs portal, for schools to advertise vacancies in order to reduce costs and help them find their best teachers.”

Recently, the government has announced a £120m pay extension for technical education colleges and £400m for school improvements at academies and sixth-form colleges. Some may remain sceptical of the benefits this funding will have due to the extreme school funding cuts which need to be first made up for.

The Labour Manifesto again fail to specify what will happen with regards to teachers from the UK working in the EU, and vice versa, beyond 2020.

They've said:

“We will tackle the teacher recruitment and retention crisis by ending the public-sector pay cap, giving teachers more direct involvement in the curriculum, and tacking workloads by reducing monitoring and bureaucracy.”

Labour, thus, would scrap the £9,250 tuition fees, create a National Education service based on the NHS and abolish Ofsted. The exact benefits of the latter two changes remain unclear.

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto says they want to ‘drive up standards in every school’ but do not promise anything for the teachers,

“We want to improve the status of the teaching profession, and support and nurture teachers in their work- helping to drive up standards in every school. We will reform Ofsted inspections so that they include a focus on longer-term outcomes… support proper long term planning of initial teacher training places, prioritising close partnerships with higher education and specialist routes such as teach first.”

They would reverse cuts to school funding, triple the funding for early years pupil premium, give teachers a pay rise (although they don’t specify by what proportion) and spend more money on teachers’ professional development.

In order to be informed a little more on the aims of each party, and their manifestos, stay tuned for upcoming articles where we’ll discuss how each party plan to budget their money, manage recruitment and plan for the future.

The Curriculum

In regards to teaching, an area which will be detrimentally impacted is that of foreign languages. As most teachers from this field are from the EU, schools will struggle to provide students with the opportunity to study a variety of languages. For subjects which are already difficult to recruit for and having declining take-up rates among GCSE and A-level students, the impacts of withdrawing from the EU could be damaging.

Now, the changing around of teachers. With an already limited supply of teachers in the country, particularly in secondary schools, the effects of Brexit are worrying. An even smaller supply suggests that managing education and behaviour in schools may become more challenging. But, it’s nothing that can’t be overcome… Education has always been political.

In 1997, Tony Blair proclaimed his priorities were “education, education, education” yet the system in place has been the same for multiple decades. 

On the other hand, perhaps Brexit will result in the changes which the education has always needed. Maybe it will advance and incorporate more advanced technology that students have been fantasizing about for a long time. If there’s any point where school lessons may become virtually accessible and where exams are not sat in large halls at the end of each year, we can hope that that will be after Brexit. 

EU/International Students?

When it comes to Brexit’s impact on student numbers, it is shown that independent schools are most likely to be affected - though the extent will “depend on how individual families and businesses react to the withdrawal,” as quoted by Celsian Education.

It is unlikely that EU students studying in the UK will be forced to leave their schools, but until this has been confirmed, it is unsurprising that many parents and students will remain stuck in a state of limbo.

School trips will also be impacted. The freedom of movement has thus far enabled education institutions to organise trips abroad, which for many students, has offered an opportunity for cultural immersion and a chance to engage with new environments. After Brexit, some schools may be dissuaded from organising such excursions due to the logistical obstacles. It’s unlikely that Britons will be required to have full visas to traverse EU borders but there’ll be a strong likelihood of needing to complete an online registration form and a payment of $7 for travel authorisation upon arrival in the EU.

To summarise, a Brexit option which puts an end to the free movement of goods and services is likely to lead to a disruption in school supply chains. As the date the UK leaves the European Union potentially draws closer, educators will need to prepare in a way which allows schools to benefit in a post-Brexit nation.

Next time, we’ll be looking at the impact of Brexit on taxes, benefits and spending...

Look out for '24. The Brexit Vote: Taxes, Benefits and Spending'.

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