New poll exposes divide between Labour and working-class voters over grammar schools

A majority believe grammar schools help children from less well-off backgrounds achieve greater academic success

Joe Watts
Political Editor
@JoeWatts_
Thursday 18 August 2016 18:16
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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is strongly opposed to grammar schools
Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is strongly opposed to grammar schools

A new poll today revealed a potentially damaging split over grammar schools, between Labour and the working class voters it needs to win power.

The exclusive survey for The Independent found a majority of manual labourers and unskilled workers believe grammar schools help children from less well-off backgrounds achieve greater success.

Almost half the group surveyed by BMG Research also said they thought the selective schools, which Tory Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to increase in number, improve social mobility.

The figures present a challenge for Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner who recently said the grammar schools policy “belongs in the dustbin of history”.

She has highlighted research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies suggesting children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to go to a grammar school than better off pupils.

But today’s poll suggests many voters may still need convincing that the schools are not the engine of social mobility the Tories claim they are.

People who took part were confronted with four statements and asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed.

Of all voters, 60% agreed or agreed strongly that the schools “enable children from less well-off backgrounds to achieve greater academic success”.

Some 51% of people who intend to vote Labour also agreed. In the C2, D and E social groups made up of manual labourers and unskilled workers, 54% agreed.

A similar breakdown occurred when people were asked if they backed the statement that the schools “improve social mobility in society”.

A total of 51% of all voters agreed, while 42% of Labour voters agreed. Almost half, 49%, of C2DE voters thought the statement was correct to some degree.

The next statement was negative, asking if people agreed whether grammar schools “waste the talents of less academically gifted children”.

Only 24% of all voters agreed or strongly agreed. Similarly 26% of C2DE voters agreed, but a higher figure 35% of those intending to vote Labour agreed.

When people were asked if they agreed whether “grammar schools encourage elitism in society”, the results were more compelling.

Some 34% of all voters and C2DE voters agreed. But a far higher proportion, 50%, of those intending to vote Labour backed the statement.

BMG Research Director Dr Michael Turner explained that the poll also suggested a divide between those who continue to vote for Labour, and those who voted for the party at the last election but now will not.

He said: "Of those who voted Labour in 2015 but would not vote Labour today, more than two-thirds, 68%, agree that grammar schools enable children from less well-off backgrounds to achieve greater academic success, whereas less than half, 47%, of those who continue to vote Labour feel the same.

"In fact, on the very idea of the further introduction of grammar schools just 29% of those who say that they will continue to vote for the party under Corbyn support the planned increase, compared to 43% of those who voted Labour in 2015 and won’t today."

Asked directly whether they supported the plans of Mrs May, herself a former grammar school pupil, 42% of all voters backed them, 43% neither agreed nor disagreed and 14% opposed or strongly opposed them.

Of Labour voters 33% backed them, 41% neither agreed nor disagreed and 27% opposed or strongly opposed them.

Finally, of C2DE voters, 35% supported the proposals, 50% neither agreed nor disagreed and 15% opposed or strongly opposed them.

BMG Research interviewed a sample of 1,668 adults from across the UK online between August 11th and 15th. Data are weighted. Full details at www.bmgresearch.co.uk

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