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Paul Norton

How will Brexit impact UK independent schools?

Paul Norton looks into the possible outcomes for the independent education sector in the aftermath of the EU referendum vote

Posted by Stephanie Broad | July 04, 2016 | People, policy, politics

Whatever your opinions on the great Brexit debate, the after-effects of the result will ripple through the education system, just as they will across every other sector and independent schools must be mindful of and prepared for the possible outcomes.  

As leaders of independent schools, a few issues will be at the forefront of our minds: how can we reassure our current international students and their families? What does the future hold for the students considering moving here to study? And what will happen to our profession’s talented international teachers, many of whom form the backbone of the exemplary teaching standards expected of private institutions?

Now, more than ever Britain’s independent schools need to demonstrate resolve and steadfastness in the face of political ambiguity

While we can speculate, no-one can really predict exactly what will happen next, after all there’s no precedent for this situation. What independent school leaders must be doing now is carefully considering future outcomes and planning accordingly.

Britain’s exit from the European Union will undoubtedly have an effect on education establishments, particularly those independent schools that purposefully cultivate and encourage diverse student communities. The Independent Schools Council has said in a recent statement: “We will expect, in time, to see changes to legislation which are specifically relevant to schools. It is especially likely this will concern international pupils in our schools.”

It’s clearly in all of our interests to continue to attract the best and brightest staff and students from all corners of the globe to study in the UK and so now, more than ever Britain’s independent schools need to demonstrate resolve and steadfastness in the face of political ambiguity.

It’s worth noting that this drastic decline of our currency could in fact have a positive influence on student recruitment for independent schools, not least because schools in the UK will be able to become more competitive internationally

Coming to the UK will inevitably become more of a difficult and lengthy process as the methods of 'securing our borders’ and rolling out more stringent visa entry regimes begin to be implemented. While it remains to be seen what these methods will be or how they will work, it’s a very real possibility that the additional hurdles needed to be overcome could lead families to look elsewhere for private schooling, seeking out countries that appear to be the easier and more reliable choice.

There’s also been much conversation about the economic stability of our nation since the pound lost more than seven per cent of its value against the dollar on Friday 24th – a slump that could of course be detrimental for many sectors. However, it’s worth noting that this drastic decline of our currency could in fact have a positive influence on student recruitment for independent schools, not least because schools in the UK will be able to become more competitive internationally. In becoming more affordable for foreign families looking to send their children overseas we should be able to strengthen our position in encouraging more of the world’s brightest young minds to our shores. If you view this in terms of basic economics - the pound devalues, schooling becomes cheaper for international students, and demand goes up.

Students at King's Monkton

In times of uncertainty, independent school leaders must be as vigilant as ever in terms of ensuring our offer to students in terms of education, extra-curricular activities, and life experience is unrivalled. To continue to achieve these high standards we must be mindful of the prospect that a post EU-UK could also lead to talented teachers looking to leave our country. As it stands, EU staff make up 15% of the academic staff in UK institutions and its partly down to these vibrant and multicultural staff teams that we can create the inclusive and nurturing environments that schools such as ours should always be striving to maintain. As employers, independent schools will now have even more of an obligation to ensure we create employment packages that allow us to offer our students the very best educators.

Much is still unknown about the repercussions of Brexit and for independent schools our priorities should be as they have always been – the happiness and progression of our current students and staff, and looking to attract and educate the next generation of outstanding learners and leaders.

Paul Norton is Principal of Kings Monkton School in Cardiff.

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