The public is divided on the coalition government's approach to education, according to the results of a New Statesman/ ICD poll. While most members of the public (79 per cent) support Michael Gove's plan to introduce Swedish-style "free schools", there is overwhelming opposition to universities being allowed to charge students as much as £9,000 a year. The poll also found surprising support for the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries's demand that schools teach children about the benefits of sexual abstinence.
Would you send your child to a private school if you could afford to do so?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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 some or 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.