Brittle Britain: the hidden impacts of Brexit on our education system?

Published on: Author: Mark Murphy Leave a comment

Professor Anthony Finn, School of Education, University of Glasgow

The United Kingdom’s narrow [1] vote to leave the European Union (Brexit) has led to consternation within the UK and across Europe, as different states have attempted to evaluate its impact and consider its implications.

Although the triggering of Article 50 will initiate negotiations about the future political relationship between the UK and its EU partners, there is little sign of a review of implications for future professional mobility. If, therefore, the free movement of citizens is restricted, what might be the consequences for education systems?

Currently, there are over 180 nationalities represented among the students and staff of Scotland’s universities. Some 50,000 international students have chosen Scotland as their place of study, with 20,000 of these being EU students[2]. Similarly, within the University of Glasgow alone, there are over 850 non-UK EU staff. EU students and staff make a significant contribution to the university and to Scotland. Many of them consider Scotland as home and wish to build a professional future here. Will this be possible under Brexit? And although current residents may be protected, what will be the implications for future visitors in a post-Brexit Britain in which student funding and staff entry rights are no longer guaranteed? How easy will it be to staff our universities, to fill courses and to access research funding? [3]

Will there also be implications for recruitment to teaching posts in schools? Currently, teachers from other EU states have both freedom of movement and the right to be recognised as qualified professionals [4]. While the advantages of these rights for the NHS are well-known, they also offer a source of teachers for Scotland’s schools: some 500 teachers qualified outwith Scotland are granted GTCS registration status every year [5]. In future, EU teachers may have their path to Scotland restricted.

The Scottish Government, concerned about teacher shortages in some subjects and areas, has recently launched a series of “new routes into teaching”. Ironically, one of the more acceptable “new” proposals invited the recruitment of surplus teachers from Ireland, where teaching standards are broadly equivalent to those of Scotland. However, it remains to be seen whether this route will be open in future years.

Some other ”new” routes were received less favourably: critics feared the dilution of Scottish professional standards, citing concerns about “teachers” qualifying on English-style fast-track schemes which place insufficient emphasis on educational qualifications and university education. However, although the clear expectation is that all “new route” teachers must gain the Standard for Registration, there remain apprehensions that any future shortages might require further pragmatic reconsideration. In addition, since teachers who move to or from the UK after Brexit may well lose professional mobility rights, it will be interesting to see how different countries evaluate such schemes.

Interestingly, although teaching is regularly described as a “profession”, there is limited agreement across Europe about what constitutes professionalism[6]. EU member states have quite different approaches to the professional standards required of teachers. There is even greater divergence in respect of teacher induction and the ongoing development of skills, knowledge and professionalism. Finally, the regulation of teachers’ conduct and competence is applied very differently in different countries and jurisdictions. These issues can cause difficulties when teachers seek posts in new locations; after Brexit, they may need to be considered afresh.

Scotland currently has an all-graduate profession, high standards of teacher education, performance and conduct and an expectation that teachers must be qualified in the subjects they teach. In recent years, there have been some stirrings of European interest[7] in our system of teacher professional regulation. Could any of the factors outlined above now put this or even our standards themselves at risk?  And might Scotland seek the protection of its professional and political heritage in a Scexit which reinforces our link with Europe at the cost of the Treaty of Union which, in 1707, brought Scotland and England together?

Interesting times!

Anthony Finn is Professor of Teacher Education and Professionalism and a former CEO of GTC Scotland.


[1] 51.8% voted to leave in the referendum held on 23 June 2016.

[2] Universities Scotland, January 2017.

[3] The EC research programme, Horizon 2020, allocated almost €202 million of funding to Scottish HEIs and research institutes. (Scottish Parliament, Oct 2016)

[4] EU Directive 2013/55/EC.

[5] GTC Scotland

[6] cf Finn A (2016) The professional standing of teaching in Europe: regulation or relegation? (In: Hudson, B. (ed.) Overcoming Fragmentation in Teacher Education. Cambridge. (In Press)

[7] cf Prats-Monné, X. (2013). The professional identity of teacher educators. Paper for Irish Presidency Conference, Dublin,

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