It’s now five years since the UK voted to leave the European Union.
In the summer of 2016 no one could have predicted how the years to follow would pan out, and the impact they would have on schools and education.
Of course, the biggest shockwaves felt through classrooms and staffrooms did not come from Brexit, but from Covid-19, with the UK’s fractured relationship with its neighbours on the continent put in perspective by the global pandemic.
The movement of UK and EU citizens has been restricted, but this was in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid, not due to the political relationship between the two regions.
Now, however, as European countries begin to contain the virus and recover from the disruption caused, attention again returns to Brexit and how the movement of teachers might be impacted.
With the withdrawal agreement operational from January 2021, the hiring of UK staff in the EU, and vice versa, is subject to more paperwork than in the pre-Brexit world – potentially putting many off applying for jobs abroad. But six months on from Brexit officially occurring, has this been the case?
We spoke to three leaders working in European international schools, all of whom regularly recruit British teachers.
Brexit: What next for teacher recruitment at international schools?
“It is now harder to recruit from the UK,” says Claire Nuttall, vice-principal at St George’s International School in Luxembourg. “We need a longer lead time to get the paperwork sorted.”
This is perhaps not surprising. Prior to the Brexit agreement coming into force in January, UK teachers were free to work across the region and were subject to an almost identical application procedure as local staff.
This is no longer the case. For Nicholas Hammond, headmaster at the British School of Paris, paperwork is also a major headache.
“The main concern at present is the time that it takes for work documents to be processed now that the UK is a third country [non-EU member state]”, he explains.
“We have been very well supported by the local authorities on this and the regional government is, of course, keen to make Paris, in particular, look as attractive as possible.”
Brits still keen on EU jobs
However, despite delays in processing visas and the paperwork, it seems Paris and other EU destinations are indeed attractive to UK candidates. And although Covid has played a part, many of those teachers already based in the EU are reluctant to look for work back home.
“We have very few staff returning to the UK,” says Nuttall. “In fact, the opposite has been true – there has been a change so that staff who are leaving have moved to other jobs in Luxembourg, rather than returning to the UK. If anything, Brexit has made people less likely to return.
“We had a really strong pool [of applicants] this year. Perhaps because we interviewed earlier. We also have a new trend of staff who returned to the UK who have chosen to come back to our school and to Luxembourg.”
In Paris, Hammond has also seen a flurry of candidates keen to secure jobs within the EU.
“While we were very concerned about the effect of Brexit on our ability to recruit, the reverse has been true,” he explains.
“Since Brexit we have had some of the strongest fields for jobs, including subjects that we would have traditionally considered difficult to recruit for. It seems that despite the initial concerns over the right to work and migration of employment, people are willing to make a move to France.”
Nonetheless, while there may still be a desire among UK-based staff to move to EU countries, the restrictions on travel put in place over the past 18 months have made this a challenge.
Some expat staff have not been able to make their usual trips home to see friends and family, and Hammond expects to see a spike in movement once traveling returns to pre-Covid levels.
Sarah Ford, elementary principal at Danube International School, in Vienna, also considers the impact on staff movement to be skewed due to the ongoing effect of the pandemic.
“A few staff have returned to the UK, and two have decided to stop teaching for a while – due possibly to burnout from the Covid pressures, and also illness of relatives back in the UK, rather than purely Brexit,” she says.
Further down the line, Ford expects reality to hit harder with regard to the opportunities for British staff due to Brexit.
“I do see a huge and lasting impact on teacher movement,” she says. “We [UK nationals] are now seen in a similar way to English-speaking teachers from other parts of the world – there is no paperwork advantage.
“Even for those of us who have a right to reside in the EU post-Brexit, this does not help with changing country. Effectively I am not more employable in France or Spain than someone from Canada, the US or Australia, etc. It is also much harder for travelling companions to join teachers, as they are considered as third-country nationals.”
A question of politics
A large part of the problem, beyond the regulations and the requirements themselves, seems to be the politics that has surrounded them.
The Brexit debate coincided with a rise in nationalism on both sides of the English Channel and has fractured the relationship that the UK held with the rest of the continent.
“I think that Brexit has made many people less happy to work in the UK,” says Nuttall. “Just before Brexit, we had many applicants that wanted to leave UK but had not previously considered international teaching.”
For Hammond, there is still a long way to go and the political position of the two regions will be crucial to the way things develop.
“As to long-term concerns, I suspect that much will depend on the way that Britain chooses to position itself – if in partnership with EU, rather than competing with the EU, we could maintain relatively easy movement,” he says.
“If a more isolationist or competitive stance is adopted then it may well result in a far greater number of hurdles to movement being established.
“It will be interesting to see whether Britain’s declining role in Europe and as a more globally focused country will mean that the local populations in Europe begin to turn away from British education, seeing it as being less compatible with European systems.
“[A] loss of access to British universities at EU rates also means that there will be a decline in interest.”
Despite all this, Hammond still sees a bright future for UK teachers in international schools in Europe.
“Most national governments realise that the presence of a wide range of educational options, including international schools or British overseas school, makes the offer that they make stronger,” he says.
“As a consequence, I believe that despite a rise in populist nationalism, the place of international schools will remain and British teachers will be welcomed internationally.”