Please note, this article does not represent the political views of TheSchoolBus editorial team, and should not be taken as such.
On 23 June, the nation will vote on whether the UK should remain within the EU, or whether Britain should exit – ‘Brexit’ – the EU. While we’ve heard arguments both for and against remaining in the EU on the grounds of trade, finance, farming, security, the environment, consumerism, travel, sports and culture, there is a notable void of information on how either vote could affect Britain’s schools. This article collates what we have heard so far about the EU referendum in relation to education.
Immigration: impact on pupil numbers and attainment
Immigration, in particular free movement within the EU, is arguably one of the pinnacle issues within the Brexit debate that, either way, affects the aforementioned factors, and as such, is one consideration that has been explored by an education data company attempting to understand how the vote might affect schools.
SchoolDash analysed government figures to produce a report on schools and immigration and found that DfE figures only recorded ethnicity, rather than nationality, meaning that EU immigrants could not be specified. In compromise, the study focussed on “non-British, non-Irish white” (NBW) categories, which are said to be most likely from EU countries.
While some campaigners may argue that an influx of immigration, at a time when many schools are oversubscribed, could be damaging to school performance and pupils’ education; however, the report showed that the percentage of migrant pupils is proportionately low, with only 4.9 percent of primary pupils, and 4.2 percent of secondary pupils in Britain being in NBW categories, with a 1.2 percent increase since 2011.
Specifically, it found that not all schools are impacted in the same way; while a certain area may experience an influx of NBW pupils it does not mean that every school in the local area will experience similar increases.
The key finding of the report was that, generally, schools with higher proportions of NBW pupils, and as a result, more pupils with English as an additional language (EAL), were not as successful at meeting national benchmarks for reading, writing and maths; however, when the study accounted for the make-up of schools in terms of free school meals (FSM) etc., it actually found that schools with fewer NBW pupils performed worse than similar schools with high proportions of NBW pupils.
Similarly, the results showed that disadvantaged pupils, including those eligible for FSM, in proportionately high NBW schools attained higher than their counterparts in proportionately low NBW schools.
Explaining these finding, the authors of the report said: “Migrants to Britain often originate from countries where there is a high regard for education and great respect for teachers. These migrants place a high value on education and encourage their children to work hard in school and listen to their teachers.”
Although these results may appear positive and suggest that migrants potentially boost Britain’s education standing, contributing to rising school standards, the authors admitted that the figures from schools in London largely skewed the results, stating, “if you believe (as some do) that London’s educational strength comes in part from its ethnic and linguistic diversity then you could reasonably conclude that having a lot of white immigrant children at a school is likely to help rather than hinder its academic progress.”
On a similar note, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan expressed concerns that, should Britain leave the EU, opportunities for pupils to learn a language, such as French, German and Spanish from native speakers would diminish.
While it could be argued that Ms Morgan could not confirm that the language assistants she was referring to would be at risk of deportation as a result of a leave vote, the statement coincided with concerns over new immigration rules for non-EU migrants, who are now required to prove they earn at least £35,000 to settle in the UK for over six years, which has stirred up some suspicion.
School buildings and loans
Another factor potentially affecting education, highlighted by Schools Week, is in relation to the government’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP).
Since the beginning of 2015 over £350 million has been loaned from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to fund the PSBP. This cash is lent directly to private firms to build new schools, and is repaid by LAs and schools through lengthy contracts, known as PFI contracts. The loans are said to be good value as they can be offered on more competitive rates and longer terms than commercial banks, with some councils making savings of over £2 million per project.
A spokesperson for the EIB stated: “It must be noted that future support for long-term investment in the UK by the EIB could be at risk if the UK were to leave”, which could mean loans for the new school buildings programme would cease. The former Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt said schools “are better off in Europe. Leaving would be a leap in the dark and would put all this at risk”.
On the other hand, while some schools are happy with the results of their PFI contracts, a National Audit Office (NAO) survey found that PFI contracts do not achieve best value for money, the long-term benefits are difficult to measure, and that many schools are struggling to repay the debt.
Conversely, some economists have argued that, while no one knows the consequences of a vote to leave the EU, the process of reform would be gradual, and would involve the UK renegotiating trading relationships.
But what would happen?
There has been plenty of speculation about what could happen if we leave/remain in the EU; however, it’s impossible to predict what would happen for certain. There is no guarantee that leaving or staying is the right choice, so it could be argued that either vote is, essentially, a leap of faith. Nonetheless, Britain will hopefully be spending the next couple of weeks examining the evidence for both arguments, in preparation to make an informed, yet personal, decision.
Freddie Whittaker (2016) ‘Nicky Morgan: Brexit could harm pupils’ language-learning opportunities’ <http://schoolsweek.co.uk/nicky-morgan-brexit-could-harm-pupils-language-learning-opportunities/> [Accessed: 07 June 2016]
Public Law Today (2016) ‘Brexit and public procurement’ <http://www.publiclawtoday.co.uk/local-government/procurement/308-procurement-and-contracts-articles/29149-brexit-and-public-procurement> [Accessed: 07 June 2016]
Sophie Scott (2016) ‘Speed-read: What impact has EU immigration had on England’s schools?’ <http://schoolsweek.co.uk/speed-read-what-impact-has-eu-immigration-had-on-englands-schools/> [Accessed: 07 June 2016]
TheSchoolBus (2016) ‘The Brief: The Private Finance Initiative Paradox’ <http://www.theschoolbus.net/topics/funding/474?[ID]=21595> [Accessed: 07 June 2016]