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Headteacher's Blog

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I have not lived through the most decisive moments in European history. I fear though that we are now staggering towards a critical point as our politicians deliberate on our future relationship with the rest of the EU.

When I speak with older students, both here and on the Isle of Wight, many are worried about Brexit's impact on their opportunities and career plans.  As one discerning youngster put it to me, “we have been lied to sir haven’t we”.  Another who can now vote said, “I had no say in the result which will have a profound impact on the lives of us and other Sixth Formers for years to come.”  When I talk to students about what matters to them they mention local opportunities, prospects post-16 or 18, the cost of transport, occasionally the economy, travel, housing and safety.  Yet we were told that by leaving these issues could improve, well that remains to be seen.

Although not limited to youngsters taking A Level Economics or Business Studies, many students understand that trade deals with the EU will impact on our goods, services and jobs. Then there is the impact on the higher education sector.  At the start of this year there were almost 147,000 EU students studying a higher education qualification in the UK, contributing £5.1 billion to the UK economy and supporting 20,000 jobs[1]

Most schools recruit a proportion of staff from EU counties, particularly to fill Modern Foreign Language positions. Future arrangements are unclear; our sector is already stretched when it comes to teacher numbers. In January 2018 a Public Accounts Committee report[2]  highlighted the fact that schools only managed to fill around half of vacant positions during 2015/16 and this, coupled with an increase in teachers leaving the profession before reaching retirement age and the decline in teacher training applications, is putting further pressure on schools.

All of this Brexit malarkey has ensured that none of the acute issues in education have acquired nearly enough political airtime. Do we remember the statements about educational funding being protected in cash terms, but in reality schools were being hammered by changes to national insurance payments and pension arrangements, at the same time the student populations started to grow? The demographic bulge will shortly hit the secondary phase with little evidence of strategic planning to cope. Then there was the raiding of post-16 educational funding, this has seen a real terms cut of over 17%. Then to bring us up to date, we have the latest teacher pay award, which you would be forgiven for thinking was fully funded. Wrong, the first 1% has to be found from existing budgets, the remainder is new money.

I am not a huge fan of documentaries concerning schools, however I have caught the BBC2 documentary ‘Schools’.  A television production company were given unprecedented access enabling them to do a deep dive into the working of three Gloucestershire schools, exploring the difficult decisions Heads and teachers are making every day on the back of cuts to education funding. The series brings home the harsh realities of the impact of cuts to school funding.

The responsibility for education and its funding is the gift of national governments not the EU, but the EU promotes co-operation between member states. Our universities receive millions in research funding from the EU. The EU also actively encourages British students to study abroad, highlighted in the Erasmus programmes available across the EU. We have benefited from these at Oaklands for a number of years.

Undoubtedly, the UK is on the cusp of a decisive moment that could have a significant impact on the future of our country, it would be naive to think that the education sector will be immune from this. Further, it is our children that will have to manage the long-term fallout, negative or positive. 

 

 

[1] The costs and benefits of international students by parliamentary constituency. Report Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International Pathways.

http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2018/01/11/costs-benefits-international-students-including-parliamentary-constituency/

 

[2] House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts - Retaining and developing the teaching workforce - 24 January 2018

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/460/460.pdf