Support rises for reopening schools, say pollsters

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

Image source, Andrew Matthews
Image caption,
Schools are getting measures in place for a safe reopening

Public confidence in the full reopening of schools in September seems to be growing, according to an opinion poll.

A YouGov survey shows support for the full-time reopening of schools in England and Wales has risen from 57% to 65% over the past three weeks.

Millions of pupils will begin returning to school from next week.

But the opinion poll also shows 19% of adults opposed to reopening and 16% who don't know.

Safety measures

Schools have been preparing for the safe return of pupils, with children to be kept apart in "bubbles", alongside hand sanitisers, one-way systems, staggered start and finish times and reconfigured timetables.

But there have been questions about whether parents have been convinced by the safety measures.

The YouGov survey, based on almost 3,300 people in England, Wales and Scotland, suggests a shift in attitudes towards backing the full-time return to school, after the long disruption of the lockdown.

In a previous survey on 4 August, the pollsters had found more scepticism about reopening schools, with 25% opposed and 18% who don't know.

The follow-up survey, from 26 August, shows 19% opposed and 16% who don't know.

Head teachers' leader Geoff Barton says this matches what schools are now saying, with the expectation "that the vast majority of pupils will attend from the beginning of term".

But he says there will still be some parents "who will be anxious and it will take time to build confidence".

Chris Curtis, political research manager at the polling firm, says the public seems to back the idea that reopening schools should be the "top priority".

But he highlights that growing support for opening schools is alongside an increasingly negative view of how the government is handling education.

Image source, Jack Hill/The Times
Image caption,
Boris Johnson has been urging a full return to school

"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," said Mr Curtis.

The latest polling suggests more support for sending pupils back to school - but this is a survey of the general adult population, not just parents, and there are some underlying differences.

There is below-average support for going back to school among the less affluent and younger.

The strongest support for reopening schools is among those who are older, in higher-income brackets and in the south of England.

Education 'handled badly'

The government has been pushing a strong message about the need for pupils to go back after so much time out of school - and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is a "moral duty".

But tracking polls for YouGov show an increasingly negative view of the political handling of education among the public in England, Wales and Scotland, with support collapsing through the course of the lockdown.

At the end of March, there was a positive view of how education was being handled: 46% thought it was being handled "well", compared with 35% who thought it was being handled "badly".

But dissatisfaction has risen sharply over the summer, through the months when pupils have been taught at home and during the problems with exam results.

The most recent figures, for last week, showed 61% thought education was being handled badly, compared with 27% who thought it was being handled well.

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