In the run up to any election, schools may be approached to hold political meetings.
Candidates standing in most forms of public elections are entitled to ask for use of a room in a maintained, foundation or voluntary school to hold a political meeting/s to further their candidature. Some schools may also seek to hold a political event for their pupils to engage them and promote British values and parliamentary democracy.
Your local authority may approach you to use your school’s premises for a political meeting.
If you are asked to host a political meeting by the local authority, for members of the public to attend, the school (the head teacher and the governing body) should work with the local authority to help facilitate the meeting.
The responsibility of the school would be to carry out a risk assessment around the meeting. This should include access to the school for members of the public, access to facilities such as toilets and the start and finish times of the meeting (liaising with the site manager to arrange a time to secure the school). The local authority should liaise with the governing body to check the premises lease around the use of the school outside scheduled hours.
Parliamentary or local government candidates may also approach you to ask to use school premises for political purposes (England and Wales).
In the Representation of the Peoples Act 1983, chapter two, parts 95 and 96, state that a parliamentary, local government or London Assembly candidate, may, for the purpose of holding a public meeting to further their candidature, use a suitable school room in a community, foundation or voluntary school.
- A parliamentary candidate may request and make use of a room, free of charge, between the day after parliament is dissolved and the day before polling day.
- A parliamentary candidate is not entitled to have use of school premises outside of the constituency in which they are running, if there is a suitable room in a school within the constituency.
- A parliamentary, local or London Assembly candidate may be required to pay any expense incurred in preparing, warming, lighting, cleaning the room or returning the room to its usual conditions. They will also be liable to pay for any damage.
- A local government or London Assembly candidate may have use of a room, free of charge, between the last day that a local election notification is published (25 days before polling day) and the day before polling day.
- A local government or London Assembly candidate may use a school room in the electoral area in which they are standing, or in an area adjacent if there is no such room within their area.
- Whenever the school premises are used for such purposes, it should not interfere with the normal school day.
Use of school rooms for parish or community council purposes
The Local Government Act 1972, Chapter 70, part seven, section 134 states that school rooms may be used for a meeting of the parish council, community council meeting or community meeting at a school maintained by the local authority. This would have to take place outside of normal school hours and should not be charged for. However those meetings would be liable for any damage to the room, and this should be reflected in any subsequent agreement document.
Your own school holding a political event for the pupils
If you wish to hold a political meeting for your own pupils, then you should bear in mind that the school should not appear to be biased towards a political party, including marginal political parties that espouse controversial views. Holding political meetings however will engage pupils and help promote British values and parliamentary democracy.
When arranging a political meeting you should:
- Establish the purpose of the meeting – for example, is it relating to a general or to a local election;
- Invite all parties, including any local / regional parties;
- Decide on the type of person from each political party you will ask to come along – for example: Councillors, council candidates, prospective parliamentary candidates, local party leaders;
- Decide on the format of the event – for example, will each party get an amount of time to speak and take questions?
You may wish to brief pupils before the meeting so that they are aware of who the attendees are and their positions. This would also be an opportunity for pupils to consider preparing questions to ask the panel.
Avoiding the pitfalls of holding a political event at school
If you intend to hold any political event at school, you must consider the Education Act 1996, chapter 56, part five, sections 406 and 407; this bit of legislation sets out the requirement for schools to prevent ‘political indoctrination’ of pupils and places on schools, a ‘duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues’.
The legislation states:
“The local authority, governing body and head teacher shall forbid a: the pursuit of partisan political activities by any of those registered pupils at a maintained school who are junior pupils (not yet attained the age of 12) and b: the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school”.
The legislation also applies to any activities laid on for pupils that take place away from school premises which have been arranged by a member of school staff or anyone acting on their behalf or on behalf of the school.
The local authority, governing body and head teacher shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils, they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.
Schools in Northern Ireland
Guidance from the Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) that applies to grant-aided schools advises that:
'A school shall not be used for political meetings, the transaction of any political business or for any purpose connected directly or indirectly with Parliamentary, Assembly or local government elections, except as polling booths on the requisition of the officer responsible in accordance with the statutes governing such elections.'
First published 25 April 2017