Hostile teaching on EU migrants is gravely failing British schoolchildren

A creeping trend of anti-immigrant educational material is worming its way into the curriculum, portraying EU migrants as outsiders and criminals. Tanja Bueltmann, founder of the EU Citizens' Champion campaign, explains why these examples are not just failures in the teaching of migration, but also wider attitudes, and wider ignorance, towards the situation of EU citizens at home in the UK

While immigration from EU countries and beyond continues to be a frequent topic in public discourse, the same cannot be said about the emigration of British citizens. This is a pattern we can also see when we look at the teaching of migration history in schools. Together with its neglect in public debate this goes some way towards explaining why migration can now be cast so easily as a one way street into the UK when in actual fact British people have been amongst the most prolific migrants for centuries.

Yet while inward movements to the UK have received a lot of attention — not least in the context of Brexit — the quality of the debate has been poor. Sadly, this also seems to be true for at least some of the teaching of this contemporary migration and freedom of movement.

Over the last year a number of very problematic learning materials were used in some schools that deal with the movement of EU citizens to the UK. Earlier this week I was sent a worksheet that was used in a Year 9 Geography class. Not only were there several grammatical errors on the worksheet — a fact that initially made me question its origins — the worksheet might as well have been a copy and paste job from an EDL pamphlet.

With a particular focus on Polish EU citizens, the worksheet was full of baseless statements about their negative impact, from criminality to social unrest. At best, the worksheet was misleading; at worst it was directly inflammatory. It had an immediate impact. With at least one Polish student in the class where the worksheet was used, it caused that student great distress.

The worksheet originated as a user submission to the TES website, a platform for sharing learning resources. Regrettably, TES does not provide quality control, relying instead on users reporting problematic materials. That system failed in this instance, but at least the TES team apologised and acted swiftly when this was brought to their attention.

Why did nobody think about the welfare of the Polish student in the class?

Nothing can be gained from turning this into a witch hunt for the school, the teacher, or the author of that worksheet. But there are questions about responsibility, and while Brexit is not the immediate trigger for this worksheet, it provides a wider context we must recognise. How was it possible that nobody gave any thought to the impact a worksheet that singles out one group of EU citizens in a primarily negative way would have? And why did nobody think about the welfare of the Polish student in the class?

Failures

What the worksheet’s use reveals, therefore, are not just failures in the teaching of migration, but also wider attitudes, and wider ignorance, towards the situation of EU citizens at home in the UK. The Polish student’s parents, probably the student themselves, are likely faced with having to apply for settled status. This is the new status all EU citizens already at home in the UK have to apply for if they want to stay. Being forced to apply to stay in one’s own home is not easy to come to terms with. And that is why we need schools, and employers, friends and family, to recognise how difficult a time this is for EU citizens and their children.

Problems are already significant, particularly for already marginalised and vulnerable groups who do not fit the profile the Home Office has built the settled status application process around. As Roma Support Group, an organisation working with Roma people in the UK, recently reported, one third of the people they supported through the settled status application process did not get through.

But the most pressing concern is that many EU citizens do not even know that they have to apply if they want to stay. Think, for example, of the EU citizen in her late 80s who has Alzheimers and lives in a care home. There is a real risk of thousands of people becoming illegal and falling into the hostile environment.

To prevent that from happening, and to enable the best support possible for EU citizens so that nobody is left behind, I set up the EU Citizens’ Champion campaign. Please consider joining the many people who have already decided to take a stand and support EU citizens at home in the UK.

Tanja Bueltmann is a Professor of History and Faculty Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences at Northumbria University. She is also a citizens’ rights campaigner.

Image: Tanja Bueltmann