What are the public’s priorities on education spending?

Today Alison Wolf wrote a piece in the FT about apprenticeships, including our polling about the public’s priorities on education spending.

We asked the public to prioritise between different possible education policies, all with major spending implications, for the next government. This is a question type that internally political parties and policy makers use quite frequently.

Apprenticeships ‘for skilled and technical work’ win by a clear margin. Apprenticeships are more than twice as popular as childcare, which has been the big focus of policy announcements and spending in recent years.

Apprenticeships are the most popular option for every social class, including AB, though most so for C2 (unsurprisingly, since they are in skilled manual work). Childcare came way behind in every social class.

There are big age differences on childcare. But even among the age group most in favour of childcare spending (25-34s), it barely wins out over other priorities. People  at the age when they would be most likely to have young children do not feel passionately about childcare, compared to other education spending.

There are also large age splits on apprenticeships.  In part these are exacerbated by many younger people prioritising lower University fees. There are two other possibilities why they aren’t prioritised. One is that young people are no longer interested in apprenticeships. They’re a relic of the past and expanding them will have little impact on people. This seems implausible given that, now UCAS is advertising apprenticeships, it is clocking major rises in demand. At age 14, 1 in 7 of today’s young adults wanted to learn a skilled trade , which is still something one learns (rightly) on the job, not in a university classroom.

The other hypothesis is that young people don’t know much about apprenticeships, because there aren’t very many of them. Only 1 in 20 (6%) of 17-18 year olds managed to obtain an apprenticeship last year. This is often against very stiff competition, and those who do get one are mostly very satisfied with their experiences.  In contrast for the over 55s, who were young in the period of plentiful apprenticeships, and many of whom were once apprentices, they are overwhelmingly popular.

Finally, we looked at popularity among those who switched from Conservatives in 2019; either to Labour, or to “Don’t Know” (where it is unclear how they will vote). Obviously this is partially an age effect – older people voted Tory, so older people have switched. But, again, support for apprenticeships is overwhelming.

This is obviously an area where an interested government would wish to do more opinion and policy research. In the FT piece there were a number of policy suggestions for how to improve apprenticeships. But it is, in our view, more important to the public than – given the trend in spending and policy – it is to the current government.

Tables of this polling question can be found here