Public Split on Whether Schools Failing to Open in September Would Be ‘Acceptable’

July 11, 2020
R&WS Research Team
Coronavirus | Coronavirus Restrictions | Education | Health | Lifestyle and Society | UK Government

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Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies earlier this month had shown that the UK public agrees with the government’s timeline to reopen schools in September. Our findings came in the wake of the publication of guidelines issued by the Department of Education which will render attendance in September mandatory for all students in England.

This week, we found that a majority (51%) of respondents now think that the government’s plans to have all schools fully open by September is the right timing, compared to a strongly plurality (47%) who believed so in our poll a week before. Meanwhile, 19% of respondents answered that the date to reopen schools is too early and 15% stated that it is too late.

Those who voted Conservative in the 2019 General Election were the most likely to agree with the Government’s timeline, with a large majority (60%) saying they agree that September is the right time by which all schools should be fully re-opened. This agreement is higher than the 43% of 2019 Labour voters who consider September the right time, yet this proportion still represents a plurality of Labour voters in favour of the Government’s policy.

With Leicester currently in a localised lockdown and fears over a potential second wave of coronavirus, however, many have expressed their concerns over the government’s plans. Teacher unions in particular have called against a “one-size fits all” plan given the uncertain evolution of the crisis in the coming months, arguing local authorities should be able to make decisions on when to reopen schools.

In the event that not all schools are able to reopen by September, the public is evenly divided over whether such a failure would be acceptable: 42% say it would be acceptable, whereas 41% think it would be unacceptable.

In particular, a strong plurality (49%) of those who voted for the Conservative party in 2019 think that it would be unacceptable for schools not to fully reopen by September. On the other hand, only 31% of those who voted for Labour think it would be unacceptable, confirming our previous poll which found that a third (33%) of Labour voters considered a return in September too early. Our findings thus indicate that Labour leader Keir Starmer’s statement that all children should be back in school by September has yet to gain traction amongst its electoral base but might in fact appeal to some Conservative voters.

Among those that would find it unacceptable, we found that a plurality (46%) would hold teacher unions responsible for such failure. On the other hand, 41% answered that they would hold the government responsible for the failure to reopen.

Such a near even split among this subgroup suggests that, while the public broadly supports the Government pushing for schools to re-open in September, less than a fifth of the public would blame the Government should schools fail to re-open by this time.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Follow us on Twitter

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