Brexit and education: where are we now?

It seems like a long time ago that commentators were speculating about the impact that Brexit would have on education. One of the first issues to hit the news was students being too depressed to sit their exams. Over a year later, while it is hoped that students are happier to sit their exams, not too much has changed. There is still considerable uncertainty.

Also around the time of the referendum, there was widespread reporting of an increase in racist incidents. While this is now receiving less media attention, schools should continue to be aware of students who may be particularly vulnerable. This should include considering the immediate needs of potential victims and also being aware of those who may be at risk of being drawn into extreme behaviour.

Private schools continue to report increased numbers of students from abroad as the exchange rate makes education in the United Kingdom a more financially attractive proposition.

It currently looks unlikely that Brexit is going to have any major impact on primary and secondary schools. The Government has a clear agenda based on a knowledge-based curriculum, academies and free schools.

One of the biggest areas of uncertainty remains around immigration. While the EU's opening position is that free movement of workers is required for access to the Single Market, the Government's position is not yet clear. Schools seeking to recruit teachers from inside or outside the EU will need to be prepared for the unpredictable.

For Further Education, again, uncertainty is a key issue. Any Colleges with European funding, or connected to organisations with European funding, need to consider the risks if this were to reduce.

Some universities are considering their future funding streams due to the lack of clarity about European funds. This applies both in respect of potential funding streams from Europe and any changes to immigration policies which will impact the ability of students to attend university. It appears likely that if there are changes to the rights of EU citizens, other changes affecting non-EU citizens will follow.

Apart from legal issues, Brexit has sparked a wider debate about what attitudes education providers wish to adopt towards the EU, as well as how they should view the world beyond Europe. Some universities are considering emphasising the international as part of their teaching outlook and schools have been debating whether or not the voting age should be reduced. While these are not legal issues, this is a good time for schools to reflect on their character and ethos, and how they wish to respond to this major change for UK society.

One policy which has received greater attention since the referendum has been the increased focus on education as a key part of an industrial strategy intended to make the UK more competitive on the world stage. This could mean more emphasis on technical skills as part of education reform. 

But, for now at least, we can be sure that the UK remains a member of the EU despite the calls for 'independence day' celebrations. So, the best advice to schools would be to keep calm and carry on, but don't ignore the risks.

If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Russell Holland, Barrister in Michelmores' Education team.