Youth orchestras touring to the EU post-Brexit

This advice originally appeared as a column in the January 2020 edition of Music Teacher magazine, written by the ISM's Senior Policy and Research Officer, Dr Naomi Bath.

Brexit and music education might seem like the most unlikely pairing – but they are deeply entwined.

In my role at the ISM leading on research and policy, the two main areas I work on are music education, and the impact of Brexit on the music profession. I used to view these policy areas as discrete topics, but at the last APPG for Music Education meeting, they were brought together for the first time.

In both contexts, music is under threat. We know from the APPG’s report State of the Nation, co-authored with the ISM and the University of Sussex, that music education in state schools is in serious decline due to the EBacc and other accountability measures. We know from ISM research that Brexit is already having a significant impact on the lives of professional musicians. We also know how valuable the music industry is to the UK economy – some £4.5bn per year.

It is clear that as both music education and the music profession are being squeezed, our talent pipeline is in jeopardy.

How will Brexit affect youth orchestra tours to Europe?

Brexit and its impact on the future of touring to the EU for youth orchestras, choirs and bands is of serious concern. As we know, music tours for youth groups from schools and music services provide rich opportunities for cultural exchange. They encourage the ambitions of young musicians and provide them with valuable experience of performing to different audiences.

However, Brexit threatens these opportunities. A no-deal Brexit in particular (which, at the time of writing this, is still not off the table) would cause significant problems and in some cases make touring financially unviable. School groups travelling over half term in the recent weeks were very concerned about whether their tour could go ahead as planned.

Whilst the latest Government advice indicates that school groups should be able to travel to the EU in a no-deal Brexit, there are still complications for schools when it comes to travelling. For example, it is unknown whether EU immigration officials will continue to recognise the List of Travellers scheme – a visa waiver scheme for schools if there are non-EU students in the group.

Schools have received contradictory advice from Government and local authorities when it comes to the transportation of instruments and equipment to the EU. Some schools have been told to register for an EORI number (an Economic Operators Registration and Identification number, required for the import or export of goods into or out of the EU) in order to use the National Export System. Others have been advised to make oral declarations at the border or to purchase carnets, which are expensive.

If instruments contain endangered materials on the CITES list such as ivory, rosewood and tortoiseshell, they are even more difficult to transport. Instruments like guitars, clarinets, and violin bows may require a Musical Instrument Certificate to satisfy customs officials at the border. There will also be restrictions on which ports and airports these instruments can travel through. Until very recently, Dover, Eurotunnel, Holyhead and Belfast Seaport were not on the list of CITES-designated ports in a no-deal Brexit. However, due to ISM pressure, these have now been included on the list – though crucially, Eurostar has not.

The end of the EHIC scheme would mean schools or parents needing to purchase private travel insurance that includes health cover. Additional road and licensing regulations for drivers of coaches and lorries would also inflate costs. Schools that exchange the personal data of students with EU counterparts would need to amend existing contracts to ensure they are data-compliant.

The consequence of these myriad processes is that they would generate so much additional cost and documentation, that for many schools and music services, it would become impossible to tour in the EU. This would be a tragedy for our young musicians, whose horizons should be broadened instead of narrowed.

ISM’s advice

    If your school or music service is planning a tour in the EU in the coming months, make sure you’re as prepared as possible. Here are a few tips:
  • Check GOV.UK advice pages for the most up-to-date developments
  • Check out for our latest advice
  • Consider seeking assistance from a professional tour company
  • Encourage students to check they have at least 6 months’ validity on their passports well in advance