Young people, the EU and Dad’s Army

Janet Downs's picture

The EU Referendum debate increasingly appears to be like episodes of Dad’s Army.  Each side has its Captain Mainwaring addressing the troops with the likely outcomes of exit or remain.   Then up pops Private Frazer, ‘We’re doomed!’ 

I’m not going to discuss various claims; FullFact does that.  But, trying to be impartial, I’d like to consider the effects on education and young people of going or staying.


Yesterday’s figures showed net migration at its second highest level.  Half of it comprised EU immigrants.  Their children are entitled to be educated in UK state schools. This puts a strain on school places.  Around 5% of children in English schools are White Non British, White Irish or White Traveller/Roma*.  This is a small proportion but it relates to thousands of children, all needing school places.  Leaving the EU would reduce the number of such children. 

The Remain campaign could argue that if we left we would have to negotiate a UK/EU trade deal which may force us to accept EU rules.   The Leave campaign could counteract this: any new trade deal would not necessarily mean compliance with EU regulations – Europe, they say, needs our trade more than we need theirs.   


If UK were to leave the EU, children of UK citizens resident there would lose their right to go to publicly-funded schools.  Young British people would lose their right to live, work and study in the EU.   Denmark is the most popular destination for UK graduates, followed by Switzerland, Sweden and Germany in joint second place.   The ability of young British people to enter such countries would be curtailed on Exit.

Switzerland isn’t, of course, an EU member but is a member of the European Free Trade Area.  Switzerland is an example of a non-EU country still bound by EU rules regarding free movement of people, goods, services and capital in return for free trade although the agreement is under severe strain after the Swiss anti-immigration initiative in 2014.  The EU says free movement is non-negotiable – a sign that it would be extremely difficult to negotiate the type of UK/EU free trade agreement put forward by the Leave campaign.

The EU funds programs aimed particularly at young people: Erasmus+, the fledgling Youth Guarantee and Daphne aimed at preventing violence against children, young people, women and other at-risk groups.  Funding would be at risk if Britain left the EU.

The Leave campaign could claim the UK could fund similar programmes from the money saved by not being in the EU.  The Remain side could say that while funding may still be possible, EU-wide participation by UK young people would be restricted.

Leave or Remain?

Much of the debate has been crystal ball gazing – doom laden predictions of what might happen if the UK were to stay or go.  The vote could hinge on which side frightens voters the most.  And there’s the crunch – these voters are less likely to be young people. 

The Telegraph cites two surveys which show 80 per cent of British students want to remain but 66% couldn’t say when the vote was taking place.   It’s essential that young people, whether Brexiteers or Remainers, should vote.  And that means registering to vote by 7 June.  Young people will be affected by the outcome for far longer than the oldies whose vote is likely to decide the Referendum.   Young people’s future shouldn’t be decided solely by Dad’s (or Mum’s) Army.

*Presumably these are Codes for children of EU citizens not categorised as British. 

UPDATE: 27 May 13.05  The article has been updated to make it clear which EU rules are followed by Switzerland.  The original article implied Switzerland was bound by all EU rules.  This was incorrect.



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Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 27/05/2016 - 15:07

In the late 1990s my headship school admitted about a dozen Kosovar children across all years of the school. The families had been granted asylum and given temporary accomodation in Ulverston as part of a national scheme reacting to the Balkan conflict. The numbers in each year group were small, so no extra classes had to be created. The Cumbria LA created an Officer post in the Barrow Education Office and we liaised with her very effectively. She may have provided some out of school support for the families and the children, but we provided none, other than through the extensive supports systems we had for all our pupils. All the Kosovar pupils and their families were Muslims, not that anyone would have noticed. Neither the parents nor their children wore any kind of distinctive clothing. I cannot remember if the mum's wore headscarves even. All of the pupils had English as a second language. By the time they were admitted to our school they had been in England some months and their English was already very good. Some extra support was given but this did not make much in the way of extra demands over the huge amount of support we provided for our native pupils.

The parents were hugely supportive of their children. They were also organised and negotiated the school places with the LA as a group, not individually. Despite their status they wanted to know a lot about our school before they agreed to admit their children. They visited other schools in the town that got far better GCSE results than us.

So how did it go? Brilliantly. All the children settled very well, made good friends and made excellent academic progress - far better in fact than the average for our inner urban working class intake. One family moved away to Manchester, but after a few weeks returned giving the 'poor school' and bullying as the reason. Some of the children were still in our school when I retired in 2003. Others had taken GCSEs, got good results and progressed to the Sixth Form College and later to University.

I did have a personal role in this because as the conflict in Kosovo settled they were put under pressure by the immigration authorities to return tp Kosovo. Most wanted to stay and I successfully supported them in immigration tribunals held in Leeds. Why did I do this? First, because as a teacher I always felt a duty to be on the side of children and their families. Second, because these children and their parents were a huge asset to our school, both academically and socially. Why would our school want to lose them? They were fully integrated and involved in our School Council. Third, because the families were clearly an asset to Barrow.

I realise it is not possible to generalise from our very positive experience, but I do think that all this talk of immigrant families putting a strain on services like schools is much exagerated. Our Kosovar families were well educated and the parents held good jobs back home. However they and their children had certainly seen some terrible things in the conflict with the Serbs. But, all of this this is generally true now of the majority of asylum seekers from the conflict in Syria.

Our experience was overwhelmingly positive.

My grandchild's best friend at school now is from a Polish family. They too are fully integrated and an asset to the community.

It would be a tragedy to turn any local  logistical problem into a crisis, or worse, create community tensions where none need arise, as a result of the exploitation of fears through the EU referendum.




Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 28/05/2016 - 08:47

Roger - this is an uplifting story.  You describe the support put into place both by the school and the LA.   This does, of course, have to be paid for.   Stuart Jackson is MP for Peterborough which has a large number of children from immigrant families with little or no English entering schools at any time of the year.  This presents challenges.  Jackson has called for extra funding to be available for areas like Peterborough to help them support these children and their schools.  Jackson described how cooperation between some Peterborough schools, academies and non-academies, had been kick-started by Peterborough LA injecting funds of about £750k.  This is a large amount for a small authority and Jackson argued that such funding should not have to be found locally but be part of national funding.  

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 28/05/2016 - 09:13

Roger - you are right that politicians on the Leave campaign and certain sections of the media supportive of Exit are exploiting the arrival of children from EU countries.   Employment Minister Priti Patell, a daughter of immigrants, says EU arrivals cause 'unsustainable' pressure as they 'swamp' schools.  The Express claimed it cost £3b to educate EU children.  This was based on defining EU children as having ONE parent from the EU.  Ignoring the nationality of the other parent, who could easily have been British, bumped up the proportion of EU children to one-in-fifteen.  The actual proportion is one-in-twenty.

That's not to say the arrival of children who can't speak English well (and they're not just from the EU) doesn't present challenges.  But, as you say, this logistical problem has been blown up into a national crisis and exploited by the Leave campaign.   

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 28/05/2016 - 10:18

At the end of WWII Leicester received huge numbers of Polish refugee familees and some from other Eastern European countries. By the 1970s these familes were well established and integrated into the life of the city. From 1973 to 1975  I taught physics at Wyggeston Boys School, one the most prestigious grammar schools in the country (the Attenborough brothers were former pupils). Polish and Balkan sirnames were hugely over-represented in the school compared to the local population, and were always especially numerous amongst the school's highest achievers.

A few weeks ago the CEntreForum annual report caused a deal of controversy. I take issue with the true nature of  the 'attainment gaps' that they discuss, as explained in this article.  However, the raw data from the CentreForum report shows that 'white British' pupils are amongst the poorest school performers on a wide variety of measures compared with a large range of children from other ethnic/national backgrounds. This suggests that the positive experience of our school and our Kosovar children may be closer to the truth than the stories of schools and 'native' children disadvantaged by the influx of children with English as a second language. I can't find the sources, but I don't believe that hard attainment evidence shows any disadvantage at all. A lot of this is simply mistaken 'common sense - driven' prejudice: the idea that such children will 'take  up more of the teacher's time to the detriment of my child'.

It could be that the influx of Engish as a second language pupils into state schools is actually on balance a bonus, with positive outcomes well worth the small amounts of extra provision needed. Given the vast cost of government 'initiatives' over recent decades compared to very poor outcomes (when the spin is disentangled), maybe a much more cost effective intervention would have been to actively seek refugee families from the world's trouble spots, instead of plunging our schools into 'permanent revolution'.

My book, 'Learning Matters' is as much about dispelling 'common sense' myths about education as anything else.

The highest performing part of the UK is London, the most ethnically mixed. The CentreForum report also shows 'mixed heritage' children to do very well. These are likely to be bilingual - a long recognised educational positive. You get mixed heritage children when immigrants pair up with locals. Without the immigrants you can't have the mixed heritage families whose children do so well.

This is all highly controversial stuff that I am stealing myself to dip into through an analysis of the BBC2 'Chinese School' experiment programmes broadcast  last summer. Once again, 'common sense' conclusions are in my view seriously flawed.  


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/05/2016 - 09:29

Roger - the CentreForum analysis was based on flawed data - it was based on results against a proposed benchmark set for 2013.    It's unreliable, therefore, to use CentreForum's analysis to say White British were among the worst performers on a range of measures when CF backdated a proposed 2030 benchmark to 2015 results.  

GCSE rankings for 2015 show White British pupils were ranked 9th= out of 18 ethnic groups (omitting those who were unclassified/parents preferred not to say).   57.1% of White British pupils reached the benchmark 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English.

'Any other White' were 12th: 52.6% of these reached the benchmark in 2015.

'Mixed heritage', whether in CentreForum's flawed analysis or in GCSE results, is an amorphous categeory.  'Mixed White and Asian' pupils outperform White British but 'Mixed White and Black Caribbean' do worse.

However, this is straying from the point of the article which considers the arguments from both sides which affect education.   Neither, as far as I'm aware, have highlighted the achievement of EU immigrant children in English schools.  Leavers concentrate on the cost of accommodating and supporting them.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 29/05/2016 - 11:02

I agree with that Janet. My main point was in support of your last paragraph. As in Leicester, after WWII it takes a generation for the benefits of European immigration to become apparent. There have been, of course, many successive waves of immigration to the UK from continental Europe starting with the Romans. The last of these was certainly not the Norman Conquest. The Huguenots are a good example. All have brought benefits.

On the question of mixed parentage we are of course getting into controversial territory because the issue of genetics cannot be avoided. I am quite comfortable with this because of my firm belief in 'plastic intelligence' that can be raised through national education systems and is demonstrated through the 'Flynn Effect'. This is all discussed in 'Learning Matters' as is the evidence for the Flynn Effect going into reverse in thre marketised English education system.

Although still controversial, the genetic benefits  of mixed heritage children are argued through the arguments about heteozygosity.

The other important point made in Part 4 of Learning Matters is regardless of all these arguments including nature/nurture debates, Cognitive Ability Test scores (CAT)s remain highly predictive. The CATs data from highly inclusive multi-ethnic schools like Mossbourne Academy show that boosting general cognitive ability through rich cognitively challenging teaching rather than shallow 'behaviourism' is the best response to all these challenges.

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