Russell Slatford, Headmaster of Bournemouth Collegiate School, discusses Brexit and the challenges it creates for schools…
As Brexit crunch time fast approaches, all schools will be considering what effect the separation will have on our schools. As Headmaster at Bournemouth Collegiate School, a day and boarding school overlooking the south coast, I have, alongside many other heads of boarding schools, have the added dimension of how the process might change for recruiting boarders from the EU.
My thoughts though this week were not on that aspect but on an area that may affect us all.
Over the course of last weekend we took a school trip to Belgium. It was the centenary of the end of the Great War and a school group of 30 pupils and three staff visited many of the prominent historical sites. It was a particular honour and privilege for two pupils from the group, Jack and Amelia, to lay a wreath on behalf of the school at the Menin Gate in Ypres.
I went with my wife to Ypres a good many years ago now to find the grave stone of my great-grandfather, my grandmother had never seen her father’s grave, so we laid flowers and took photographs for her. It is still one of the most poignant events in my life, the drive from the north into Ypres is extraordinary for the number of memorial sites and graveyards. The reason I mention my own personal journey is the because of the lasting effect it had on me, and in talking to the young people who went from my school it seems to have had a similar profound impact on them.
At a time when Brexit is at the forefront of our minds, when nationalism and protectionism seem the political talking points of the day, is it the case that borders that were once open will become more restricted? I hope not, as the systems and processes in place across the EU currently allow schools to help provide educational opportunities like this one. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance overseas trips, particular to events and areas of significance, can have on helping young people to develop deeper understanding and a sense of empathy or appreciation that can be harder to achieve in a school setting. Staff act in a ‘loco parentis’ capacity and being responsible for other people’s children on an oversea residential trip can be complex and understandably stressful. Currently the logistics of taking trips to Europe are thankfully straightforward, for instance schools are able to provide, with official authorisation, a list of non-EU pupils who are able to travel without a visa. With the rise of biometric identification for an increasing number of visa applications and with it a trip to your nearest embassy, normally in London, the current procedure from a school perspective is relatively easy. As we pass through the Brexit transitional tunnel, will it be the case when we emerge the other side that our trip to the battlefields of the Great War will require a number of trips into London to apply for and collect visas and will the non-EU pupils be required to go through a different and more cumbersome process? If so, trips like these maybe more expensive and complicated, and to that end may be lost, and with their departure we take away the richness, diversity and opportunities that come through our membership of the EU.
Whilst the focus of the post-Brexit travel arrangement with the EU will focus on immigration, tourism and the economy, let’s hope we don’t lose sight of the value and importance to the education of young people (and their teachers) that travel around the continent brings to their lives.