A majority of teachers and other education professionals fear that Scottish education will be damaged if the UK leaves the European Union, an exclusive TESS poll suggests.
As the clock ticks down to the crucial vote next Thursday, our survey indicates that Scottish teachers are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in Europe.
Some 82.9 per cent of those questioned planned to back the remain camp, with 14.5 per cent supporting Brexit. And 50.6 per cent said that leaving the EU would have a damaging impact on Scottish education.
The online poll comes in the same week that TES Global, parent company of TESS, commissioned a UK-wide survey of teachers. The results of the YouGov poll show that 70 per cent of teachers want to remain in the EU. More than half of respondents (51 per cent) said that Brexit would have a negative impact on the future prospects of their pupils.
Some Brexit voters taking part in the Scotland-only poll, however, relished the prospect of a leave vote strengthening the powers of the Westminster government and leading to a more uniform British education system.
One respondent in the secondary sector also raised the hope that there would be “fewer non-English-speaking pupils to teach”.
Remain voters expressed a wide range of concerns for Scottish education in the event of a Brexit, including perceived threats to exchange trips, schools’ ability to teach languages and participation in study programmes such as Erasmus.
Teachers who were not UK nationals feared that it would be difficult to continue living and working in Scotland. Several also complained that, unlike in the 2014 independence referendum, they would be unable to vote on 23 June.
There were broader worries, too, about the impact on children’s future social mobility and the potential effects of a post-Brexit recession. There were also concerns that leaving the EU would increase Scotland’s exposure to the influence of right-wing Westminster governments or give a boost to the Scottish independence cause.
Holding back generations
Others respondents worried that children would be given an “isolationist” message, with one secondary teacher predicting that future generations would be held back by schools that reflected an increasingly “inward-looking” and “insular” society.
A vote to leave would “create boundaries, physical and psychological, that are unneeded in a country that is already too parochial”, said a respondent who worked in the independent schools sector. It would also add to “heinous problems” with poverty that already “blight the prospects of too many”, they said.
A primary teacher said the message sent out to children would be “devastating”, adding: “I can’t imagine how I could begin to explain to a class why Britain chose to leave Europe.”
Others suggested that Scottish education had more in common with continental Europe than with England, warning that a Brexit could expose Scotland to the “neo-liberal agenda south of the border” and initiatives such as the academies programme.
Distinctive features of Scottish education, such as the teaching of Gaelic, might also be sidelined, they added.
Not everyone saw closer educational links with England as a negative, however. One respondent, who worked in further education, said: “Brexit would free up resources to build a strong sense of UK-wide educational identity and attainment based on diverse educational opportunity in both Scotland and England.”
Two members of staff in the secondary sector had differing attitudes towards overseas students who might have to leave their Scottish schools post-Brexit. A leave voter predicted “fewer non-English-speaking pupils to deal with, hopefully”. Meanwhile, a remain voter said that teachers, support staff and students would be lost, “leading to less diversity, which is often used as a kicking-off point for lessons and discussions”.
Only 5 per cent of the 801 respondents in the survey thought that Brexit would benefit Scottish education, mostly based on the belief that leaving the EU would boost the UK economy.
Many millions of pounds that Scotland “annually pays into the coffers of the EU could be more usefully spent in many areas of Scottish education”, one secondary school staff member said.
Fear of isolation
Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, said that the results of the TESS poll chimed with what he had been hearing anecdotally from members.
He added that there was a “fairly clear view that we are better off in relationship to education” with a remain vote. The biggest concern, he said, was that Scotland would become isolated from the European educational research community.
The EIS, Scotland’s biggest teaching union, is remaining neutral on the referendum. General secretary Larry Flanagan said that the issue did not appear to be a major talking point among members.
TESS has recently reported concerns that a Brexit would harm education across the board, from the availability of college places for students from poor neighbourhoods to the ability of boarding schools to attract the children of wealthy families from overseas.
Scottish Funding Council figures show that FE colleges receive more than £20 million a year through the European Social Fund (“Scottish colleges ‘could lose millions’ if UK leaves EU”, Insight, 10 June).
Meanwhile, many pupils in Scottish boarding schools come from EU countries – a market estimated to be worth £100 million a year to the UK as a whole. It is believed they would have to apply for visas following a vote for Brexit (“Boarding schools ‘will lose millions if we leave the EU’ ”, Insight, 22 April).
Remain: ‘Freedom for students’
Remaining in the EU is the right choice for Scotland and Scottish education.
Young people are free to travel, study and work abroad. The EU funds the Erasmus programme, which enables students to spend part of their studies at another higher education institution in Europe. The new scheme Erasmus+ brings opportunities to all: students, staff, trainees, teachers and volunteers.
The EU’s Horizon 2020 programme will invest nearly £1.2 billion in universities and businesses in Scotland, helping people to secure the opportunities and experience to get on in life.
We have mutual recognition of teaching and other qualifications, and ease of language exchange projects and other initiatives. Trips are made easier by visa-free and low-cost travel – EU action has helped to drive down the cost of flights by 40 per cent.
Above all, nine out of 10 economists say our economy is stronger by being in Europe’s single market, creating more trade and jobs. And that means more tax revenues to invest in education and other public services.
John Edward is senior campaign spokesman for Scotland Stronger in Europe
Leave: ‘More cash for education’
Outside the EU, our further and higher education institutions would thrive in an outward-looking, global Scotland.
Inside the EU, we are obliged to favour EU students over other international students. EU law means that we have to pay for the free tuition of EU students, costing £80 million every single year.
This cost has led to drastic cuts to our colleges and 10,000 fewer Scots at our universities. If we leave, we could have a fair system that treats EU students equally with students from the rest of the world, generating £200 million a year in revenue, enough to reverse all the cuts.
If we leave, we also gain control over the £1.55 billion a year that Scotland sends to Brussels. We do receive some back, but it’s just a fraction. Leaving allows us control over billions in additional revenue, which we could use to invest in securing a world-class educational sector.
Tom Harris is director of Scottish Vote Leave