Education poll: yes to free schools, no to £9,000 fees

74 per cent oppose tuition fees of £9,000, a <em>New Statesman</em>/ICD poll finds.

This week's issue of the New Statesman (out tomorrow in London and the rest of the country from Thursday) is a special on education. The issue features an exclusive New Statesman/ICD poll on subjects including private schools, tuition fees, faith schools, abstinence teaching and free schools.

So here, for Staggers readers, are the headline findings.

Would you send your child to a private school if you could afford to?

A

Asked if they would choose to send their child to private school if it were financially viable, 49 per cent of respondents said yes and 51 per cent said no. The number of privately educated pupils has fallen since the recession, although by fewer than many expected.

The Independent Schools Council's annual survey showed a 1 per cent fall in pupil numbers, down from 511,886 in January 2010 to 506,500 in January 2011.

Do you think that faith schools should be abolished?

A

Faith schools have had the support of both Labour and Conservative governments in recent times, but our poll found that the public is split over their merits. Asked if faith schools should be abolished, 41 per cent of respondents said yes and 59 per cent said no. At present, roughly 7,000 of the 20,000 state schools in England are religious, a figure that David Cameron has pledged to increase. The vast majority (6,944) are Christian; there are also 38 Jewish, 11 Muslim and three Sikh schools.

Do you think that children should be taught sexual abstinence at school?

A

Tory MP Nadine Dorries recently tabled a ten-minute rule bill that called for schools to provide abstinence lessons for teenage girls. Our poll shows that the public appears to agree with her. Asked whether children should be taught abstinence at school, 53 per cent said yes and 47 per cent said no. Dorries's bill will receive its second reading debate in January 2012.

Do you think that the policy of free schools is a good idea for education in the UK?

A
In a boost to Gove, the poll found that 79 per cent of people believe that his flagship policy of free schools is a “good idea for education in the UK". The schools will be state-funded but run by parents, charities, religious groups and childcare providers. Last June, the Education Secretary suggested that as many as 700 of the schools could be established, but just four will open their doors this September.

Should universities be allowed to charge students £9,000 a year?

A

The poll showed that just 26 per cent of people believe that universities should be allowed to charge students £9,000 a year; 74 per cent oppose the idea. When the tuition fees legislation was passed by a majority of just 21 in December 2010, ministers pledged that universities would only charge the maximum amount in "exceptional circumstances". However, of the 98 institutions that have announced their plans, 67 intend to charge £9,000 for all degree courses.

This exclusive poll for the New Statesman was carried out by ICD Research, powered by ID Factor, from 21-22 May 2011 and is based on a sample of 1,010 responses.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage