Most people have heard of Erasmus+, but very few know why Britain decided not to participate in it after leaving the EU. The reason Boris Johnson gave is that the enhanced Erasmus+ is now too expensive. This implies that he may have agreed to stay in had Erasmus not been upgraded. But who knows?
Despite the fact that the UK made a net gain of £248 million from Erasmus, Gavin Williamson wrote in The Daily Telegraph recently that staying in Erasmus+ cost the UK £2 billion and it wasn’t possible to “justify sinking £2 billion into EU coffers for a scheme that wouldn’t have been as good [as Turing]”. This is effectively a £2 billion cut to existing education where schools are already struggling to make ends meet. Schools even have to pay for their own PPE out of their budgets.
A popular misconception by MPs and even the Press is that Erasmus+ is just for universities. Another is that it’s confined to the EU whereas it actually covers 190 countries across the world.
Even fewer people in Britain will have heard of eTwinning, which is the EU’s community platform for schools in Europe and is partially funded by Erasmus+. It provides the opportunity for many schools to exchange either physically or virtually with other schools across Europe. So from 1 January 2021 British schools have not only lost access to Erasmus+, but will not be able to access eTwinning.
The eTwinning network has over 900,000 teachers and over 200,000 schools running over 100,000 projects. It now covers 43 countries and extends beyond the boundaries of the EU (for example Turkey, Georgia, Jordan and Albania). So Britain could and indeed must join as a non-EU country. To throw away this valuable resource is to quote Nicola Sturgeon “cultural vandalism”.
The loss of eTwinning was announced on Christmas Eve when schools were on holiday. So eTwinning teachers were given no notice and locked out of accounts and projects on 1 January. Due to lockdown, many students are only now finding out that eTwinning is no longer available to them. Also eTwinning teachers have lost years’ worth of work that they could not download in time.
Anna Grainger and other teachers were interviewed by Lorna Bailey on BBC Coventry & Warwickshire Radio on the loss of eTwinning.
Northern Ireland has also been cut out of eTwinning and only universities are able to access Erasmus+ through university partnerships in the Republic of Ireland.
All teachers had the opportunity through eTwinning of free of charge “Continuing Professional Development” (CPD), particularly on digital learning and collaboration – essential for 21st century. There is no funding for paid CPD in schools.
Many EU country governments run their Erasmus programme directly. The UK government delegated it to the British Council, who have done a fantastic job, but as a result our government and the British public have no idea what they have thrown away.
Modern foreign languages under threat
What the proposed Turing Scheme will deliver is not yet known. Will it allow teachers to teach in another country to enhance their Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) skills? Will Turing allow the same reciprocity as Erasmus did? The Swiss equivalent of Turing hasn’t delivered similar benefits.
The impact on the teaching of MFL in UK will be severe. Schools are already unable to fill all their MFL vacancies. Language degree courses have been cut by over a third in UK universities, and if every language graduate went into teaching we still wouldn’t have enough teachers to fill all vacancies.
Visa restrictions and the cost of visas and NHS supplements will prevent teachers and teaching assistants being recruited form the EU.
Time allocated to MFL in schools has reduced considerably over the last few years with the majority of secondary schools reducing provision from 3 hours a week to just 2 or even less. Children being able to opt to study a second foreign languages is now rare. Educator Esmerelda Salgado runs a blog for MFL teachers which highlights the current predicament.
Finally primary schools do not take languages seriously. The government guidance on time allocated to Foreign Languages in primary schools in England which was a derisory ½ hour a week has now been withdrawn! Northern Ireland has no primary MFL teaching at all.
So we have not only thrown the baby out with the bathwater, we have thrown the bath away too. UK now has no way to equip the next generation with the language skills to do business or culturally interact with our closest neighbours.
Little Britain has become even more “little”.