The Department of Education announced earlier last week its plans to reopen schools in September. Across England, it will become mandatory for parents or guardians of school-aged children to send their children to school. Failure to do so may result in steep fines. To mitigate any potential risks, the government has promised that all schools would be given testing kits if children have any Covid-19 related symptoms. If a child develops any of the coronavirus symptoms, he or she will be sent directly home. Masks, on the other hand, will not be mandatory and classrooms will be separated into so-called “bubbles” to avoid uncontrolled propagation. GCSE and A-level exams are expected to go ahead in the next academic year
Following the publication of the government’s guidelines, research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies shows that a strong plurality (47%) of respondents think that the government’s plans to have schools fully open by September is at the right pace.
Additionally, 15% of the public think that the opening is too late and 24% think that it is too early. A clear plurality (46%) of those who are a guardian or parent of a school-age child think that the opening of schools is coming at the right time, yet a significant minority (28%) believe that this is too early. Similarly, 48% of those who are not guardians or parents of school-aged children stated that the date comes at the right time.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has also stated that he believes all children should be back to schools in September. Although a plurality (38%) of 2019 Labour voters believe that the Government is acting at the right pace, a third (33%) consider a September return too early, which indicates that Starmer still has to convince many Labour supporters that the party leadership have made the correct decision in backing the Government.
Regarding the Government’s decision to make school attendance compulsory from September, we found that the majority (52%) of the UK public agrees with the policy. Nevertheless, 27% of all respondents disagree that children should be required at school for the start of the new academic year.
Of those who are a guardian or parent of a school-age child, a large majority (60%) support the compulsory nature of the government’s policy, yet a significant minority (24%) disagree. While certainly a minority group, this quarter of parents could be intransigent in September and defy this compulsion, challenging the Government. Interestingly, those who do not have school-age children are slightly more critical of the government’s policy with only 49% of them agreeing, which is eleven points lower than among those who do have school-aged children.
It remains to be seen whether the minority of parents who are particularly concerned about their children’s safety will defy Government policy and keep their children at home, risking a steep fine. As the Government works with local authorities, trade unions and teachers to prepare schools for full re-opening in time for the new academic year, Redfield & Wilton Strategies will continue to monitor the public’s attitudes to reopening schools.