Survey highlights views on return to school if no vaccine can be found

New research suggests support for a return to school before a possible second wave of infections and in the absence of a vaccine is rising, but views are very divided along party lines and people are more reluctant to return to the office.

Books and stationary on a school desk


More than half of parents say they would accept most children being home-schooled and similar numbers of the general public accept having to send their children back to school on the Government’s advice if a vaccine or treatment that deals with the threat of Covid-19 cannot be found, according to a new study.

The research, by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, looked at what the public say they’d find acceptable as very long-term options if it became clear over the next year or two that such a vaccine or treatment could not be produced.

Half the population (49%) think home-schooling most children long-term would be acceptable, with parents slightly more likely than the public overall to say this would be acceptable: 56% of those with at least one child under 18 in their household say they would be OK with it.

55% of the public say they’d accept parents having to send their children to school when the government says they have to, up from 41% in the third week of May when the survey – of over 2,000 adults – was first run. However, the figures vary a lot according to which political party people voted for.  Seventy-one per cent of Conservative voters say it would be OK, much higher than Lib Dem (56%) and Labour (45%) voters.

At the same time, 56% also say they’d accept parents being able to choose whether to send their child back to school or not, with 65% of parents saying this and Labour voters more likely to say so. Some of the findings are inconsistent, however, with a minority saying they would both support parents being able to decide and the Government taking a lead.  A majority of the public – and the same proportion of parents – say that, if a second wave of Covid-19 occurs, they support keeping schools closed for many months to reduce the risk of transmission to vulnerable adults. However, support for closure was slightly lower for those told that children who catch coronavirus are very unlikely to become seriously ill.  And support for closures is higher among those who say they don’t trust government advice on safety measures.

The survey also shows that the vast majority [86%] would find it acceptable for employees to choose whether they work in an office or at home, compared with just 8% who say they would not.

People were more divided over whether employees should have to return to their workplace when the government tells them to, with 47% saying they’d accept this and 39% saying they would not. Again Conservative votes were more likely to back the Government.

The survey also shows 87% say they would accept local lockdowns being imposed long-term, and virtually the same proportion – 85% – say they’d accept their own local area being subject to these kinds of restrictions.

46% say young people should be subject to fewer restrictions due to their lower risk from coronavirus and 68% say they would accept a ban on major sporting or cultural events with a live audience, while 52% – particularly those who are more risk-taking – say it would be acceptable for people themselves to decide whether to attend such events.

In addition, the survey found 25% of workers now think they are certain or likely to lose their job and 60% say they are not likely to. 29% of people say they’re certain or likely to face significant financial difficulties while 55% say they’re unlikely to.

Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said: “There are signs that the public are becoming more comfortable with the idea of children returning to school when the government says they must, even as a long-term policy if we have to live without a Covid-19 vaccine or treatment. But at the same time, significant proportions still say they’d be prepared to keep children out of formal education in such a scenario, with half the population saying they’d accept long-term home-schooling – and this is unchanged from May, despite the pressures we know it has been putting on parents and families.

“More broadly, the government may have more to do if it’s to convince people they should return to their workplace, with 86% saying they’d accept employees choosing where they work as a long-term option and the public relatively divided on employees having to follow official instructions on when to go back.

“The public are more convinced of the need for local lockdowns, with nearly nine in 10 saying they’d accept them being imposed for the foreseeable future, including on their own local area, while seven in 10 would accept a similarly long ban on live events, reflecting the extent to which people are still prioritising public health over the economy and their own social lives.”

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