On the 1st of June, schools were permitted by the Government to partially re-open. A poll conducted this past week by Redfield and Wilton Strategies, however, found that a strong plurality (48%) of respondents think it was not safe to partially re-open schools on the 1st of June. Only 36% of the public think it was safe. A clear contrast was observed based on who respondents voted for in the 2019 General Election. 49% of 2019 Conservative voters think it was safe, against just 28% of 2019 Labour voters. 61% of Labour voters believed it was not safe, with only 37% of Conservative voters sharing that view.
Despite one plurality thinking it was not safe to reopen schools on the 1st of June, another narrow plurality of respondents agree all schools should reopen for all students by July for at least a month of schooling before the summer holidays, even if not all schools can enforce social distancing measures. Even among 2019 Labour voters, slightly more (42%) agree with schools returning to full capacity for a month by July than those would reject such a move (39%).
However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has told MPs that the UK is currently “not able to welcome all primary school children back for a full month before summer,” and there has even been talk that some schools may not be able to re-open even in September. This delay is primarily due to the inability of some schools to enforce the two metre social-distancing rule, but has nevertheless met strong criticism. For instance, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has criticised that schools are may be opening considerably later than parts of the economy, highlighting that theme parks could open from the 4th of July.
Furthermore, a majority of the UK Public agrees that all schools should be open for all students in September, even if not all schools can enforce social distancing. About a quarter of the public (24%) disagreed with this view. Overall, support for schools reopening is strongest among 2019 Conservative voters, with 64% of them agreeing that all schools should be open for all students in September, in contrast to 46% of 2019 Labour voters. It is worth noting, however, that the 46% of 2019 Labour voters who want to see all schools open by September still comprises a plurality among the Labour Party’s 2019 voters.
The public appears strongly divided on whether a further delay beyond September to the reopening of schools would be acceptable. 42% of those polled stated that it would not be acceptable, in contrast to 41% who thought it would be acceptable. Only a third of 2019 Conservative voters (33%) would accept a delay from some schools beyond the start of the 2020/2021 academic year, in contrast to 50% of 2019 Labour voters.
Despite the importance of overall public opinion on the issue, we also decided to focus in on what parents with school age-children think. At the moment, a majority (60%) of parents of school age children polled are still not sending their child (or children) to school.
Among those parents who are currently not sending their children to school, almost half (46%) stated that they would send their child back to school this summer if it were to reopen. This figure translates to roughly 28% of all respondents with school-age children wanting to send their children to school, but so far being unable to do so due to their child’s school being closed. Conversely, 32% of total respondents with school-age children are refusing to send them to school this summer regardless of whether their respective child’s school is open or not.
Overall, as the debate continues around when, and how, children should go back to school, our polling reveals a public that is ready for children to start returning to school, whether it is this summer or in September. Indeed, our numbers suggest that if all schools were to reopen for all pupils this summer, more than two-thirds of parents with school-age children (roughly 68%) would send their children to school.