"If anything, schools now need to reinforce an understanding of the impact of Europe on our culture"

Posted on: 25 Jun 2016
Posted by: Barnaby Lenon

24 hours after the news that Britain would leave the European Union, ISC Chairman Barnaby Lenon looks at what it may mean for independent schools.

Most importantly, we run schools and look after children.

Over 30% of ISC school pupils are from an ethnic minority and many of our boarding pupils are from overseas. I would want them to know that that the referendum result is largely a comment on the institutions of the European Union, the democratic deficit. It is not about them.

Most of the people who voted to leave the EU fully appreciate this country would be in a terrible state were it not for the huge contribution made by those who have migrated to live here – the parents and grandparents of our pupils, who have seen our schools work as a ladder to social mobility for succeeding generations.

I would want children to know that leaving the EU is not the same as leaving Europe. We are not leaving Europe. We are part of Europe and it is impossible to understand British values, British art, British architecture, British literature and British food without knowing that many of the main influences are European. If anything, schools now need to reinforce an understanding of the impact of Europe on our culture.

We have every reason to give deep thought to the impact of Brexit on the finances of our schools. If the economy is weakened we could feel it. If share values fall our parents may feel poorer. School investments supporting bursaries may suffer. If jobs in the City relocate to the EU, London schools and boarding schools could possibly lose pupils. If car plants move to Spain, as they might, places like Oxford and Newcastle will feel the cold wind. Stabilising fees becomes even more important.

After the turbulence of the Gove reforms most teachers now crave a period of stability. Unfortunately the referendum seems likely to spark off political change – new ministers, possibly another election. This makes stability in education less likely and the attitude of government towards our schools less certain.

Visa reform will now return to the agenda. ISC will be at the table, alongside the universities, fighting to make it easy enough for students from abroad to come and study in this country. EU parents need to be reassured that nothing is likely to affect them in the foreseeable future.

There are many great independent schools in Scotland. It seems likely that Scotland will now move towards independence from the UK. We should therefore be concerned about our colleagues north of the border whose future is less certain today than it was yesterday.

Independent schools have propped up the teaching of modern languages in this country. Modern language teaching has been in decline and this will accelerate if children think that a knowledge of European languages is no longer a priority. It will be a huge problem if the supply of native speaker teachers from the Continent dries up. Our schools need to make every effort to support the take-up of modern languages at A level.

The referendum result was a rejection of the political elite in both London and Brussels. Independent schools may sometimes have shared this hostility towards government. But whichever way we voted as individuals, we know that the coming months and years will bring a raft of new challenges for us all.

About Barnaby Lenon

Barnaby Lenon is chairman of the ISC.