The group of around fifty college students from Colmar, in Alsace (eastern France), who arrived in Scotland a few days earlier, is one of the first to set foot on British soil since the start of the pandemic.
But the new post-Brexit formalities at the border, which came into force in October, have transformed the organization of the language trip into a real “obstacle course”, says the English teacher.
The passport is now compulsory and, for some students of non-European nationalities, a visa costing the trifle of 100 pounds (nearly 120 euros) has become essential, even if they reside in the EU.
The college left “practically every year before Brexit. There, it will be more complicated”, summarizes Ms. Lepioufle, who struggled to ensure that the students had their papers on time.
Not all teachers have the same tenacity.
And if the demand for language school trips takes off again after the Covid shutdown, establishments are abandoning the United Kingdom in favor of Ireland, Malta, or even language immersion stays in France.
The fall is “dizzying”, according to Edward Hisbergues, the group’s trip organizer from Colmar, who once saw 80% of requests from English teachers go to the United Kingdom. It’s less than 10% this year, mostly because of administrative constraints.
– “Disappointed to miss everything” –
On the British side, it is a whole sector and its armies of guides or host families, already damaged by the pandemic, which despair of seeing the return of groups of students from France but also from Germany, Italy or from Spain.
The sectoral organization Beta UK fears a shortfall of at least two to three billion pounds annually and counts this year 60 to 70% less travel than before the pandemic.
For the president of the organization, Steve Lowy, it is also a question of image, while “well over a million students” visited the country each year and developed “a long-term affinity” with the UK, he said.
“There is the perception that we are not welcoming, and not open to people from Europe”, which could cause long-term damage to the country, he laments.
Aaron Schaetzel, 13, is delighted to have been able to leave. “Since sixth grade, there have been no trips, everything has been canceled because of the Covid, confinement”, blows this fourth-grade student.
In Colmar, some parents of students have contacted the local town halls to be sure they have the passports before departure.
Others have given up on the price of the identity document – 17 to 42 euros for teenagers – or the complications of the visa. This is the case of Elisabeth Shpak, of Russian nationality, whose parents have been in France for 25 years.
In the time of the EU, she could have left with her comrades thanks to a collective travel document. “I had to give up because I’m Russian,” she says, visibly disappointed to “miss everything”.
The sector hopes the British government will return to more flexibility, arguing that a group of pupils does not pose a high security risk.
According to a survey recently published by Beta UK, the majority of the British are in favor of reduced formalities for school trips.
London replies that another collective passport exists, provided for by a 1961 treaty signed within the framework of the Council of Europe, which remains valid despite Brexit.
But it is far from solving all the problems: French tour operators, for example, have never used it and are waiting for the French government to define the procedure for obtaining it.
Other countries, such as Germany, have not signed this treaty, which in any case only authorizes nationals of the country of departure to travel.
From the top of Calton Hill, the guide Marilyn Hunter passionately tells the pupils of Colmar about the landscapes of Scotland, its history, the world fame of its whiskey and its salmon.
Brexit is spoiling his joy of seeing school trips return after the pandemic. A group from Germany the previous week had also left behind four students who had not obtained their visas in time.