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Labour keeps voters satisfied

Voters remain more optimistic about the Government's ability to deliver on education than any other of the big five public services, according to the latest research.

A Mori poll has found that 28 per cent of British adults expect the quality of education to get better over the next few years while another 3 per cent think it will get much better.

Fewer people expected improvements in National Health Service, policing, the quality of the environment and public transport, according to the survey.

Nick Gilby, Mori senior researcher, said: "I think the main reason for the continuing optimism about education is that it has had much more investment and better media coverage than other areas, such as crime and trains, and that obviously makes a big difference."

Education also enjoyed the second lowest pessimism rating with 20 per cent expecting it to get worse and 4 per cent expecting it to get much worse.

Only transport fared better on that measure with 16 and 4 per cent respectively.

But the poll, from a representative sample of 970 British adults, brought less good news for Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, because it showed a marked decline in optimism in comparison to previous months.

In September 2002, 37 per cent of respondents had expected education to get better with another 5 per cent expecting it to get much better.

But this optimism has fallen steadily since, to 36 and 3 per cent respectively in December 2002, 31 and 5 per cent in March 2003 and 27 and 3 per cent in June 2003 before a slight rise to the latest figures collected in December 2003. Mori's latest bulletin on attitudes towards education also shows that it is the second most important issue for the British, surpassed only by the NHS.

The pollster's monthly Political Monitor results, compiled from interviews with 1,960 British adults between January 15 and 20, show that 36 per cent cited the health service as an important issue, 32 per cent education and 29 per cent race relations and immigration, 26 per cent defence and 22 per cent law and order.

Education was down slightly compared to December when 33 per cent thought it was an important issue. But Mori's data show it has been a consistent top priority for the public in the past two years, having leapt in importance over the last decade.

In December 1993, education was rated as an important issue by just 19 per cent of adults and came behind law and order, the economy, the NHS and unemployment, then top of the poll.

Ten years earlier in October 1983, education did not even make the top five, with less than 10 per cent rating it as an important issue.

Eamonn O'Kane, National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers general secretary, said: "I am not surprised by this optimism.

There has been a drop since 2002, but I think it reflects the change the system is going through.

"There is a more co-operative spirit abroad which will eventually be reflected by higher morale in the education service ."

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman pointed to improving reading levels, key stage 3 and GCSE results and the growth in specialist schools.

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