Regarding the point of your article (School trips to UK from EU could halve as Brexit hits cultural exchanges, 4 June), we have a very significant paradox. The UK government talks about “global Britain”, but it seems to completely fail to understand the increasing role of soft power in having a global influence.
To have any truly global role, the world needs to “know” the UK, including its culture, its education, its media, its values, its history, and everything else about the country that has merit. A world where its future leaders have great empathy for the UK is a sine qua non for establishing global Britain.
And there are so many things that the country can do to help itself in this way, in addition to making school trips from abroad easier.
My small list: make travel visas easier to obtain; make university education easier for international students, again with cheaper visas (and get rid of the ridiculous NHS surcharge); let foreign students have free access to BBC iPlayer; make British points of entry much more pleasant; and, for goodness sake, get rid of the “hostile environment” that some parts of the British system seem to relish.
In the grand scheme of things, all these things are cheap, and actually fantastic value for money in terms of the soft power they buy. But we can’t have both a lack of generosity and soft power at the same time. Acting out the role of the “nasty party” cannot ever help to make global Britain.
I completely agree with the prediction that European schools will send fewer children to Great Britain as part of class trips. I’m an English teacher at a German secondary school, and so far we’ve organised two trips to Great Britain each year, one as an exchange with our partner school in Surrey, the other for A-level English students.
These trips are very popular with and extremely beneficial for the children, and not just as a way to improve their language skills and to learn more about another country. I know of several former students who are still in regular contact with their exchange partners from years ago. However, for us teachers, organising these trips is a lot of work. If it came to the point that we had to regularly apply for visas and change our programme to accommodate the rising costs (we have a set budget for our trips so that all families are able to afford them), I would start looking into alternative destinations. That would be a shame, for us and the students, and maybe also for Britain.
I read your article with horror and dismay. As a volunteer guide, I have shown young students from all over Europe round the beautiful city of Bath, which was pictured alongside the print version of the article. Bath became a Unesco world heritage site in 1987; one of the reasons for this was a recognition of the social scene, started by the Romans (who welcomed visitors from all over Europe) and further embedded in the 18th century, as tourists, rich and poor, flocked to Bath to enjoy the social life.
How sad that this aspect of the Unesco rating is being undermined by a Home Office that cannot see beyond the “commitment to strengthening the security of our borders”. Do they really think that a school party is a security risk? Shame on them if they do.
How times change! Above my desk I have a framed, single-sheet UK passport issued in the 1870s to my great-grandfather, a headteacher about to make a trip abroad with some pupils. The customary preamble is followed by “… request and require, in the name of Her Majesty, all those whom it may concern to allow the Reverend Charles Baker (British subject) accompanied by four children, travelling on the Continent, to pass freely without let or hindrance”. No mention of the children’s names or the continent concerned.
One can only hope that this past lack of attention to detail will not cause certain people in high places to have nightmares.
Cadier en Keer, the Netherlands
You report the minister for borders, Kevin Foster, defending the government’s refusal to allow a more relaxed visa regime for school visits from the EU as due to being “committed to strengthening the security of our border”. Does he really think that French and German teenagers are going to bunk off and try to find work picking vegetables in the Fens? I suspect it has more to do with the little England mentality that views any sort of personal contact with Europeans as being a pernicious danger that might expose our own teenagers to more liberal European values.
I have just read your article about the government making it compulsory for under-18s from other countries to have a full passport to visit the UK, rather than just an ID card, thus making it unlikely youngsters from less well-off families will be able to participate in school trips and exchanges.
I did exchanges to Germany and France in 1960, and have also organised a number of trips and exchanges from Sheffield schools in the 80s, when many of our parents were in danger of losing their jobs. I went out of my way to find school trips to both countries which would cost very little, and then encourage students to go on to do exchanges, from which they benefited enormously, personally as well as linguistically.
All this will be put at risk if German and French schools no longer want to be linked to British schools for the purpose of exchanges, and are now looking to Ireland for partners. Not only will this disadvantage our language learners, as there is no better way to become fluent than to spend time living en famille, but we as a country will be at a huge disadvantage if we no longer have citizens fluent in a foreign language and have experience of life in another country. It was Helmut Schmidt who said: “We Germans speak very good English when we are selling things to you, but we might not be quite so fluent if you are trying to sell things to us.” We already see universities cutting back on their language departments. How can we possibly claim to be “global Britain” if we are determined to ensure most of our people are monolingual?