School reopening support climbs as government’s approval rating plunges

Published: 31st August 2020

A new opinion poll by YouGov suggests that public confidence in the full-time return to school is growing.

The survey finds that support for pupils returning to schools on a full-time basis has grown from 57% three weeks ago to 65% now.

Some doubt remains, however, among the adults polled, 19% of whom oppose the move.

16% reported that they didn’t know.

School leaders and their teams have worked through the summer to ensure that their pupils return to a COVID-safe environment next week.

Pupils will remain in social ‘bubbles’ and schools will be equipped with hand sanitiser stations.

Other measures include one-way systems and staggered opening and closing times, as well as redesigned timetables.

YouGov’s poll sampled the views of nearly 3,300 people in England, Wales and Scotland, and it suggests that views are now shifting away from the opposition registered just weeks ago toward backing the school reopenings.

At the beginning of August, a similar survey found that the proportion of adults expressing scepticism about the return was 25%, appreciably higher than the current 19%.

18% said that they didn’t know on 4th August compared to 16% on 26th August, when the follow-up poll was conducted.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the head teachers’ union ASCL, confirmed that these findings correspond with what schools are currently saying.

Most, he said, now expect “that the vast majority of pupils will attend from the beginning of term”.

Even so, Barton acknowledged that some parents remained worried and that “it will take time to build confidence”.

YouGov’s head of political research Chris Curtis observed that the public now seems to be affirming the view that returning children to schools full-time should be the government’s “top priority”.

However, he also pointed to a growing discontent with how the government has been handling educational issues, despite the rise in support for reopenings.

He told BBC News: “The proportion of Britons who think schools should fully reopen after the summer holidays has increased to 65%, while at the same time the level of Brits who think the government is handling the issue of education badly is steadily increasing – up 15 percentage points since last week.”

A caveat in the survey is that while support for the school reopenings is on the rise, the respondents were drawn from the general population and included people who were not parents.

There are a number of underlying differences – for example, less prosperous and younger respondents tended to register below-average support for the reopenings, while the strongest backing came from older adults with more affluent incomes living in the south of England.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken forthrightly about the need to get children back into full-time education as soon as possible, a quest that he described as a “moral duty”, the public have increasingly sensed a mismatch between resolute words and actual government action.

Tracking polls conducted by YouGov reveal collapsing numbers who think that the government has handled education well and a strong rise in those who think that its performance has been poor.

At the close of March, 46% took a positive view compared with 35% who took a negative view.

However, over the summer and after months of home-schooling, dissatisfaction has climbed steeply, with just 27% believing that it has acted well compared to 61% who believe that it has handled education badly.

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