Mixed support for free schools - even among Tory voters

Janet Downs's picture
The latest YouGov poll found that only 23% of respondents thought free schools would make education standards better. 23% thought they’d make no difference and 33% thought they’d make standards worse. 21% didn’t know.

When asked about academies and whether conversion would improve education standards, 27% thought they’d make standards better, 24% thought they’d make things worse, 29% said conversion would make no difference and 20% didn’t know. Another mixed response.

41% of those polled said that private companies should not be allowed to profit from running state schools, 30% supported the idea while 29% didn’t know. The opposition to private companies managing free schools was even greater with 44% against, 28% in favour and 28% unsure either way.

What was surprising was the lack of wholehearted support from the Conservative respondents for flagship Government policies. Only 38% of Conservatives gave unequivocal support to free schools and 20% thought they’d make no difference to education standards. 21% of Conservative respondents didn’t know whether free schools would improve English education or not while the same proportion, 21%, stated unreservedly that the creation of free schools would make education standards worse.

Support for academy conversion among Conservatives was higher than support for free schools. 44% thought turning schools into academies would improve education, 22% thought it would make no difference, 19% didn’t know and 14% thought that academy conversion would actually worsen standards.

Given the relentless, high-profile marketing campaign by the Government and the screaming support from sections of the Tory press, it’s surprising that so many Conservative voters actually remain unconvinced about the free schools and academy conversion programme.

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Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 18:20

This survey is presumably of parents and non-parents. Last year I did a poll of parents only ( mixed background ages and regions) with the charity Family Lives. We asked parents how they would prefer to respond if they have issues with their local schools.The majority( around two thirds) said their preference would be to stick with their existing schools and either take up their concerns with the head or become a governor to try and improve things. Around a quarter said they would move their child to another school. Only six per cent said their preferred solution would be to set up a free school under this programme.
The full report is here

Guest's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 18:34

The poll highlighted also shows that 53% feel education has got worse in last 10 years, 48% feel exams are now too easy, 83% think discipline is not strict enough, 39% think there are many bad teachers and schools need to do more to get rid. These are all findings that the local schools network would refute.

So a poll highlights all these issues and you choose to run on the mixed support angle, which in reality shows that people are generally undecided about academies and free schools.

Cherry picking moi?

Leonard James's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 19:03

So the biggest issue for parents is discipline. Sherrif Wilshaw seems to be ignoring it favour of bullying teachers but where does the LSN stand? Is there a behaviour crisis?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 20:46

You'd need to compare those statistics with the same statistics over time to see if there's anything significant going on with people's opinions Guest.

They're typical rants people tend to agree with whatever the circumstances and especially if they're constantly being told it through the media.

Only 39% of parents agreeing with the 'menace bad teacher' propaganda shows a substantial lack of agreement with this government.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 22:13

I think it is often the case that if you ask the general public (many of whom have no first hand experience of schools today) their views tend to be quite negative presumably because the media paints such a bleak picture. When you ask parents, you get a completely different result - most are generally happy with their children's schools and have a more accurate view of both good and bad. Our survey of 1000 parents suggested most were pleased with their children's education - their concerns were more about communication , getting information about progress and behaviour, provision for SEN pupils and their children's well being , personal and social development .

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 22:59

I can't answer for where the LSN stand on behaviour Leonard as I don't belong but I'm happy to add a few thought from my own experience which may or may not be relevant.

I think few people in middle professional roles and above really understand the realities of behaviour in secondary schools, as most have come through the top sets of state schools or through private schools. This is a particular problem for teachers - who usually expect behaviour to be as it was in their sets and find lower sets a shocking wake-up call.

I'm quite unusual in being an Oxbridge grad who experienced serious behaviour issues - which I think was a juxtaposition of being in a school in the middle of a deeply deprived council estate in 1982, that schools being in a state of being wound down towards closure and it being under extremely weak leadership. So I was up against the kids who were high all the time and there was nothing resembling 'top sets'. I have to say I don't find schools like that now and I've taught in some pretty grim circumstances. But I could be wrong. If you've got significant amounts of illegal drugs being sold in schools and strong gang cultures then it would be that bad or worse if leadership at the school has collapsed.

Discipline is a difficult one. It's only easy to define and describe in schools which are run like boot camps - all teachers singing from precisely the same hymn sheet - very strict rules and routines. Traditionally there have been some such schools as part of the mix. There have also been others with reasonable strict rules but where, in reality, most of the students arrive in a state fit to learn and the strict rules are not the sole generator of good behaviour.

But there have been many schools where there has been strong discipline created within a different culture - a culture which assumes that a teacher establishes discipline within their classroom by establishing mutual respect with their students (which involve developing students' self respect) and that the discipline infrastructure of the school works as a supportive system around this.

This second culture relied on people who could command the respect of those around them (both within their own school and within their local community) being promoted and so has been more or less wiped out of existance by the rise of mangerialism (rather than leadership - people being promoted because they tick the right boxed and little attention being paid to their qualities as leaders) and Ofsted (which is notorious useless and giving credit to less obvious systems).

In my opinion it's the elimination of this type of sytem of discipline which has created so many problems in challenging schools. But I understand people who have not actually worked in both cultures with tough cohorts may struggle to grasp this.

Reading the result can give the impression that what's needed is stronger and stronger boot camp type schools. It is appropriate to have some of these as part of the mix - especially in areas with gang cultures and drug issues. But they're not the best solution for most kids because they depend on the child making fewer responsible decisions for themselves and so, in general, they develop less personal maturity and self discipline than they would in the other type of environment.

This is, of course, just an introduction to this topic - there are many ways of integrating the two cultures. But most would agree that the second type of culture has not been appropriately credited, recognised or developed in recent years.

The realities and solutions to issues of discipline are complex and subtle and and pretty much lost in a survey like this.

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 09:06

To begin with I think we'd do well to avoid emotive topics such as 'drugs' and 'gangs' and ask whether the more common and energy sapping forms of 'low level disruption' constitute a behaviour crisis - I'd say yes. I share your lack of enthusiasm for manageralism but I haven't really experienced schools before it was introduced. We diverge over methods of tackling poor behaviour - I can't say I've encountered many students who are naughty yet lack self respect.

Leonard James's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 20:56

Rebecca you seem to have little difficulty agreeing with the bits of the poll that suit you yet dismiss others as being 'typical rants' - can you clarify which bits are 'rants' and which aren't?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 22:03

Thanks for the question Leonard. It sound like it's come across as though I was suggesting that the poll is a rant and that's not what I'm trying to say at all so I'm grateful for the invitation to clarify.

When you've been a parent of several children going through school you realise how high the level of disaffection is and that this is a natural thing. If the vast majority of what your child is getting at school is excellent but something is not right then it's easy to become disaffected. And when you're disaffected you think things are worse than they have been.

So at any point in time I would expect a significant proportion of people to say that schooling has got worse over the last 10 years. I don't think 53% sounds particularly high. If someone has consistent longitudinal results which show that 53% represents a sudden recent increase in dissatisfaction that would be interesting and worth discussing but a figure like that as a one off is meaningless.

There is a constant barrage of articles in the press about the bad teachers we need to get rid of and how this government is going to solve that problem. That only 39% of respondents agree that there is an issue here seems remarkably low in this context.

"We need more discipline" "We need to get rid of the bad teachers" "Standards in education are slipping". When have people ever not said that? I'm referring to the general rant of the disaffected public which it is so easy to tap in to to create momentum for whatever you want to do.

Learning to understand and anticipate this phenomenon is one of the lessons for politicians described in the academic work about the politics and economics of education. Understanding the nature of the disaffected pressure groups which inevitably appear within systems which complete coverage and how to respond to them is another.

It's such a shame we have politicians in charge who neither bothered to study their field before embarking on massive programs of reform nor had sufficient life experience to naturally understand and expect these phenomena.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 09:52

The YouGov poll had over thirty questions on such diverse subjects as the Queen's Jubilee and Prince William's tour of duty in the Falkland Islands. To avoid an accusation of "cherrypicking" perhaps I should have discussed all the answers although it's difficult to understand how Fred Goodwin being stripped of his knighthood has any relevance in a discussion about education.

However, for this thread I was considering the issue of free schools and academy conversion. To have discussed anything else in this context would have been irrelevant.

It adds nothing to a debate about academies and free schools to know that only 39% of respondents think LAs should do more to get rid of bad teachers (obviously nobody told them that LAs can't do anything about teachers in academies or free schools) or that only just over a half thought that education standards had got worse in the last ten years or that less than half thought exams were too easy or that 42% think that vocational exams should be included in league tables (39% against, 19% don't know) or even that 83% think that discipline in schools is not strict enough.

The thread has diverted from a discussion of free schools and academies - perhaps that was the intention.

Guest's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 10:05


This was a thread started by you.
There were only 6 questions on education.
You cherry picked the ones to start this thread.
The poll added nothing to the discussion on academies or free schools - it was neutral.
You are not even aware of what you are doing - you claim that Gove cherry picks, hypocrite moi?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/02/2012 - 11:02

Perhaps Guest could explain how discussing ALL nine questions (and there were nine, not six) on education would inform an argument about free schools, academies and profit-making firms running state schools when not all of the nine questions were about these subjects. If I had wanted the thread to be about examinations or standards I would have chosen just the relevant questions. My GCSE students would have known better than to have answered a question about free schools and academies by talking about standards and exams.

If we confine ourselves to a discussion on free schools and academies, the poll's responses were illuminating. Given the relentless publicity from the government about free schools/academies it might be expected that respondents would answer emphatically, but they didn't. And just over a fifth of Tory respondents thought free schools would make matters worse - so one in five Tories are not convinced by their own party's propaganda.

However, Guest's contribution on another thread led me to discover via Taleb (an author recommended by Guest) a paraphrase of a quote by John Stuart Mill:

"Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives."

I shall treasure it.

And now perhaps we can resume discussing the implications for the Government's flagship policies of the answers in the YouGov poll about academies and free schools - answers which were lukewarm at best.

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