It’s no secret that UK schools have been struggling to hire teachers in recent years.
The ongoing recruitment ‘crisis’ has been well documented, with workload pressures, a lack of trainees and an increase in the number of school-age children all leaving leaders in desperate need of staff.
During this time, however, headteachers had previously been able to plug recruitment gaps with teachers from the European Economic Area (EEA).
A 2017 Department for Education report on migrant workers claimed that two per cent of primary and four per cent of secondary teachers were from the EEA.
But on 23 June 2016, when the UK voted to leave the European Union, the future of those teachers was plunged into doubt.
Brexit’s impact on teacher recruitment
With non-EU teachers also in limited supply following the Migration Advisory Committee’s refusal to place teaching on their shortage occupation list, the impact of Brexit on teacher recruitment has become even more pronounced.
That said, since the referendum, the rights of UK citizens working in Europe, as well as EU citizens working here, have been listed as a priority.
In Theresa May’s letter to the EU president Donald Tusk, in which she triggered Article 50 and began the UK’s process of leaving the union, she states:
“We should always put our citizens first… There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights.”
But with negotiations on the UK’s departure ongoing, there is little certainty about the exact implications Brexit will have on teacher recruitment.
According to Matthew Wolton, a lawyer at Knights Plc who has worked in education for 17 years, things are likely to be more difficult in the future.
“However it works, there will be an impact,” he says. “It will vary between being very negative to just a touch negative; no one is reporting positivity about it.
“I think the impact will be less than some sectors, but the education sector is a huge employer, and all huge employers will be impacted.”
What will happen to existing EU staff?
Although the position of teachers looking to move either into or out of the UK is uncertain, there at least seems to be some confidence in the status of EU teachers already working in the UK.
“The government’s position so far has been that workers’ rights for those that are already here will be protected,” Wolton says.
“Anything else would be disastrous for our critical national services, which have a substantial number of foreign workers in them. We simply can’t chuck them out.”
EU teachers working in the UK who want to remain here after 30 June 2021 will have to apply for settled status through the government’s EU Settlement Scheme.
“It will require them to jump through hoops,” he says. “There will be dissatisfaction and unpleasantness with the whole process, but the pain of filling in some forms is less than uprooting ourselves and moving country.”
But will teachers want to stay?
Although EU workers could maintain the same rights in a post-Brexit world, Wolton sees the referendum result as the cause of a larger problem.
“Of greater concern with regards to those teachers is whether they’ll actually want to stay,” he says. “It’s a completely unknown concern because it varies from individual to individual and location to location.”
Since the vote to leave the EU, there has been a widely reported rise in hate crime, which many are linking to the referendum result.
According to The Guardian, applications from EU teachers applying for the right to work in the UK fell by 25 per cent in 2017-18, versus the previous year.
Nervous times for new arrivals
While retaining EU teachers will at least be a possibility, what does the future hold for attracting new staff from the continent?
“Where the concerns are much higher is in recruitment of spaces in the future, and it’s a concern based purely on uncertainty, as we have no idea,” Wolton continues.
“There’s talk of extending the points-based system [used for non-EU workers], which looks at skills shortages and whether we can we fill a position from within the UK.”
Languages set to face the biggest hit
Modern foreign languages have been a long-term fixture on the UK’s shortage subject list, forcing the DfE into to a partnership with the Spanish government to aid recruitment.
With the prospect of Brexit making the pool of French, Spanish and German teachers available potentially even smaller, the future of recruitment appears tricky.
“You get German science teachers and you get Romanian maths teachers, but modern foreign languages are clearly one of the biggest potential issues,” Wolton says.
“It [recruitment] is not going to be as easy as it was in the past. That being said, it will work and it will continue. This is another bump in the road which we really don’t need but we’re just going to have to live with it.”
Simon Lock is Tes senior digital editor and tweets at @simon_lock_