Nativity play warning over school polling stations

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News family and education correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

Schools should not be used as polling stations in the general election, to avoid disrupting nativity plays and Christmas concerts, says Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

He has written to returning officers, saying there is funding available for councils to find alternative venues for places to vote on 12 December.

Mr Williamson says he wants to keep disruption "to an absolute minimum".

Head teachers have backed the calls to avoid using schools for voting.

The timing of a general election means it risks clashing with long-arranged plans for Christmas events in schools, such as carol concerts and nativity plays.

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Mr Williamson has written to returning officers, who are responsible for overseeing elections, urging them to avoid using schools.

"In every community there will be alternatives and I would ask that, wherever possible, these are used instead," he told them.

Local authorities, which are responsible for finding venues, have been told that central government will reimburse the costs of using other places as polling stations.

The education secretary says he wants to make sure that "long-planned and important events" are not disrupted.

Christmas events are "important highlights in the school calendar and the result of a huge amount of hard work," he says.

Head teachers have welcomed the intervention.

"Schools will already have in place a schedule of events for the term, including Christmas activities," said Geoff Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union.

"It would clearly be much better for children, parents and staff if they were able to go ahead with these events without the disruption of the school being used as a polling station."

Mr Barton said there needed to be a longer-term consideration about whether schools were really "suitable venues" for polling stations.

"This is the third election this year, following on from local and European elections, and it is the third general election in four years," he said.

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