The economics of Brexit will be crucial for everyone, says Anand Menon. A smaller economy means more difficult choices – and perhaps a smaller education budget
In a recent online piece for Schools Week, Russell Hobby made the sensible point that one outcome of the recent referendum will be “distraction and delay”. He is dead right. We have, after all, barely had a government since December because of the referendum – initiatives have been shelved, the Queens’ speech was devoid of content and ministers were too busy fighting with each other to, well, govern.
This situation will persist, while we get a new prime minister, maybe get a new opposition leader, figure out what we want from the EU, and set about trying to negotiate it.
And there is, of course, the real possibility of another election, and even another referendum on the outcome of our negotiations with our partners.
So there might not be much time for education policy – or, indeed, anything else – which might come as a relief to teachers increasingly fed up with the seemingly unending series of reforms and reorganisations that have, for years, passed as our government’s way of helping to educate our young people.
There might not be much time for education policy
Above and beyond the distractions that the EU issue will provide, however, other possible implications may not be quite so sanguine. First and foremost are the possible economic costs. There is no clear consensus, so let’s assume that Brexit causes a 2 per cent shrinking of the British economy – an assumption about half way between the best and worst case analyses. That is equivalent to about £450 billion, or just shy of a quarter of the education budget. That kind of money would buy 15 new secondary schools, give or take. The economics of Brexit, therefore, will be crucial for everyone. A smaller economy means more difficult choices, and the potential of a smaller education budget.
Brexit has also meant significant worry about the status of EU nationals in this country, a category that involves teachers, parents and kids. Immigration, of course, was at the heart of the referendum debate. And it is understandable, given the tone of much of the campaign, that non-UK nationals should feel a little nervous. But while Theresa May has refused to confirm that the status of EU citizens already in the UK will be protected, it seems inconceivable (albeit, in the current febrile climate, not impossible) that a new government would not make provision for our schools to maintain and hire the staff they need.
Finally, in a noisy and often bad-tempered campaign, several things have become obvious. First, we need to educate people more effectively about the European Union. Second, given the number of people who claimed to be confused, or to have suffered buyers’ remorse immediately after the vote, the importance of what might be called a good “civic education” has become more apparent than ever.
Clearly, this is not the responsibility of schools alone. But they have their part to play, not least in convincing their students of the importance of participation in the political process. Turnout amongst the young was lower than for any other age group. And the young, as they were ceaselessly told, will be more profoundly affected and for longer than anyone else. This is a lesson they need to learn. Politics matter, and our schools should play a greater role of explaining this to those in their charge.