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Councils asked to avoid using schools as polling stations

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said there is ‘no reason’ why nativity plays should not go ahead as planned this December.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has urged local councils to find alternative venues for polling stations (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has urged local councils to find alternative venues for polling stations (David Mirzoeff/PA)

By Luke Powell, PA

Funding has been announced to help councils find alternative polling station venues for the December elections to avoid schools having to cancel their Christmas events.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has written to returning officers asking them to keep disruption to school activities “to an absolute minimum” in their search for venues to serve as polling stations.

It comes as school leaders warned the timing of the polling day – December 12 – could prove “particularly disruptive” for primary schools as it is likely to clash with traditional festive events.

Mr Williamson said in a tweet: “There’s no reason that nativity plays or carol concerts shouldn’t be going ahead as planned this year.”

In a letter to returning officers, which Mr Williamson posted on Twitter, he wrote: “In the run-up to Christmas, schools across the country will be planning festive events such as Christmas plays and carol concerts.

“These are important highlights in the school calendar and the result of a huge amount of hard work and dedication from staff, parents and children.

“As you will be aware, central government has agreed to reimburse the necessary costs where needed to support you in identifying alternative venues to avoid disrupting long-planned and important events relating to this time of year.

“I would be grateful for anything you can do to ensure arrangements for polling stations keep the disruption to school activities over the Christmas period to an absolute minimum and that you work closely with local schools to this end.

“In every community there will be alternatives and I would ask that, wherever possible, these are used instead.”

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A poll by Teacher Tapp of 1,481 state primary teachers found almost one in five (17%) said their school will be used as a polling station.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary for the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “Elections are always an organisational headache for schools that are used as polling stations.

“The timing of this General Election could prove particularly disruptive, landing during a special time of year for many primary schools and clashing with nativity plays or other seasonal celebrations.”

Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said he had been told only a “handful” of venues proposed as polling stations were unavailable due to them being booked for other events.

PA

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