A no deal Brexit would put school testing data at risk and could lead to “unacceptable” shortages of teachers, according to documents released by the Scottish Government.

The new material – obtained by The Ferret under freedom of information law – highlights specific concerns about the risks for Scottish education of leaving the European Union (EU) without a deal.

Officials repeatedly cite a “lack of clarity” as a central problem for the Scottish Government, with particular challenges on access to testing data and recruiting teachers.


One email exchange on 15 November 2018 was about “No deal Brexit contingency planning” on “data flows between the UK and Europe”. In it, an unidentified official explained plans to safeguard data generated as part of the Scottish Government’s national standardised testing system, known as SNSA.

“The SNSA processor is based in the UK. However the main server for the data is hosted in Dublin with back-up servers in London and Frankfurt,” the official said.

“In the event of a no deal Brexit we would intend the main server to move to London with a cloned server also in London therefore hosting all the data within the UK. There would be a reduction in resilience should something happen to the London environment and that is something we are currently investigating.”

The official also said that if this change is not carried out then the test provider will be unable to continue operating the system, adding: “therefore the assessments would not be able to be taken by any children or young people in Scotland.”

The Brexit Papers

Another released document is an ‘EU Exit Organisational Delivery Plan’ but it has been heavily reacted. “Unless current EU members of the Scottish teaching workforce are allowed to continue doing so after Brexit, there is likely to be an unacceptable level of teacher vacancies,” it said.

“There is a lack of clarity over whether EU passports will become invalid immediately because the discussions on the legal positions of migrants are being carried out at UK level.”

Concerns were also raised over the situation for those in the process of becoming language teachers, for whom a year abroad is a compulsory part of their development. This system is currently supported by Erasmus+ funding from the EU, but it is unclear how this would be impacted by a no-deal Brexit.

Officials advised that continuing access to school education is “dependent on residency issues for EU nationals being successfully and speedily concluded”. They also warned that “both direct and indirect support for enhanced use of Gaelic” could be under threat.

The Scottish Government refused to release estimates of the costs of the ‘teaching workforce’ and ‘Gaelic language’ issues with Brexit, as well as information from its ‘EU Exit Readiness Assessment’ and related ministerial briefing documents.

The Deputy First Minister and education secretary, John Swinney, agreed that the lack of clarity around Brexit was posing risks across the education sector. “We recognise the teacher recruitment challenges following Brexit and we have increased targets for recruitment into initial teacher education, and created new routes to make it more practical and flexible for people to access courses,” he said.

He stressed the multiple benefits of the Erasmus scheme for teachers and students. “In the event of a no deal Brexit, the UK government could decide to continue participation with the programme as a third country participant, although the costs involved are unknown at this time,” he told The Ferret.

“Plans are in place to ensure the appropriate handling of all Scottish national standardised assessments data in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.”

According to Swinney, Gaelic projects had benefited directly from additional funding from the EU, estimated to be £6.2 million over the last 10 years. “This is why the UK government must stop using the threat of a catastrophic no deal outcome to blackmail the UK parliament into accepting their deeply damaging plans,” he argued.

“An extension that stops the clock on Brexit would allow time for agreement to be reached on a better way forward, which the Scottish Government believes should be a second EU referendum with remain on the ballot paper.”

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Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, shared some of the government’s concerns. “Even at this late stage of the process, a great deal of uncertainty remains on just how severe the potential impact of Brexit might be,” he said.

“For learners, the largest points of concern are based around the potential loss of opportunities that are currently available from within Europe. In schools, for example, will it still remain as straightforward to bring in qualified teachers from other countries into Scotland, such as language specialists?”

He added: “Will language assistants – often undergraduate or postgraduate students from across Europe – still be free to come to work in our schools to offer the invaluable perspective of a native speaker to the learning of language?”

Flanagan argued that an immediate priority was to protect the rights of teachers and lecturers from other EU countries who have chosen to come to live and work in our schools, colleges and universities. “Brexit should not have a detrimental impact on the workload of Scotland’s teachers and lecturers or the learning experience of Scotland’s pupils and students,” he said.

“Many of these concerns will need to be addressed and considered as a matter of urgency as the prospect of Brexit moves ever closer.”

Westminster’s Department for Exiting the European Union has not responded to our request for comment.

Redacted documents released by the Scottish Government

Photo of John Swinney thanks to Scottish Government.

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