'Schools currently face two big challenges: recruiting teachers and shrinking budgets. Will these be affected by Brexit?'

28th June 2016 at 15:16
funding, recruitment, brexit, eu referendum, jim knight
Does total political meltdown matter for schools? Yes and no, says a former Labour schools minister

The UK is drifting rudderless in the political and economic storm following the referendum. What does it mean for schools and teachers?

At one level, not a lot. The EU does not have competence over compulsory education and so there are few direct consequences. Much depends on how Britain ultimately weathers the storm, but there are some things to look out for.

Schools currently face two big challenges: recruiting teachers and shrinking budgets. Will these be affected?

This depends on how the linked questions of free movement of workers and free trade are resolved. The EU is very unlikely to allow the latter without the former, and the electorate clearly wants to curtail EU migration.

If migration is curtailed, it could affect the supply of teachers.

Shortage occupation

Several thousand EU nationals teach in our schools and we can ill afford to lose them. Recent changes to immigration rules for non-EU teachers give them a limited time to work here unless they earn more than £35,000 per annum. The government may need to relax these rules to open up teaching as a shortage occupation for which we would easily grant work visas.

The effect on budgets is more complicated.

The Treasury depends on significant revenues from the City, corporation tax and income tax. If the position of the City as the financial capital of Europe is weakened, and if business migrates to access skills and avoid trade tariffs, then there will be significantly less money coming in to spend on services. In 2008, the housing crash affected stamp-duty receipts and was part of the sudden collapse in revenues for the government.

The only new money I foresee would be anything generated from our own trade tariffs. These will be passed on as higher prices, which in turn may generate more VAT, but without more overall money for consumers to spend, the effect on Treasury income would be limited.

Does a meltdown matter?

The wider impact of tightening immigration rules would be more pressure on our education system to equip people with the skills and appetite for work that business needs. This is likely to filter through to schools and may make education a bigger spending priority from any money that could be released from contributions to the EU.

This is an interesting opportunity. It would need a stronger work-related learning element to the curriculum and a rebalancing away from such a purely academic emphasis in the curriculum. However this would need considerable work on the curriculum and qualification model under the current system.

Finally, there is the question of whether total political meltdown matters for schools.

Practically, it means there will be little focus on education for some years, beyond the skills issue. Parliament will be tied up legislating on all the areas of EU law that will have to be brought into UK legislation.

This may be good for schools. A period of stability while politicians try to find stability elsewhere would be welcomed by many.

As long as it doesn’t translate into neglect.

Jim Knight is chief education adviser to TES’ parent company, TES Global, and a former Labour schools minister. He tweets as @jimpknight

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