Use of school buildings as polling stations

During an election, your school may be asked to serve as a polling station. Your school staff will handle these arrangements, but you may want to learn about what the rules are and when your school should close.

Last reviewed on 24 May 2024
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 5356
  1. Schools are required to comply with requests for use from the returning officer of an election
  2. There's no requirement for schools to close 
  3. What happens on polling day

Schools are required to comply with requests for use from the returning officer of an election

All state-funded schools can have their rooms used as polling stations, free of charge.

The returning officer is only required to reimburse the school for:

  • Any damage done to the premises
  • Any costs incurred as a result of the use of the premises for polling (e.g. lighting and heating)

This is set out in paragraph 22 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and in planning and organisation guidance from the Electoral Commission.

Room choices are up to the returning officer

However, the returning officer should discuss this with your school leaders. While the returning officer is responsible for administering the polling, your school remains responsible for safeguarding and the health and safety of pupils and staff.

This was explained to us by ASCL.

There's no requirement for schools to close 

The decision to close falls to your headteacher.

It will usually depend on whether:

  • Pupils and the voting public can be kept apart
  • There are separate entrances and exits for pupils and the voting public
  • Voting can take place without compromising your school's controlled access
  • Pupils' education won't be interrupted

Pupil safety must always be the priority when making this decision.

This is based on a letter to the Electoral Commission from former education secretary Nicky Morgan in 2016. It's the most recent governmental advice on this that can be found, but it's no longer available online.

Your school should contact your local authority (LA) to see if it has any guidance on this matter.

What happens on polling day

Your school leaders and staff should handle these arrangements, but it's useful for your board to know what's going on. 

If your school is closing

Your school leaders should:

  • Warn affected parents in advance to give them time to make childcare plans
    • This includes when before or after-school provision is affected
  • For maintained schools: your school should have at least 190 teaching days during the school year, so it should try to find a practical way of making up the lost day with extra sessions, in line with any relevant LA guidance (but don't worry if that's not achievable)
  • For academies: your school is free to determine how many teaching days it has, so it's up to your staff to decide whether to arrange extra sessions

If you want to avoid losing a teaching day, your headteacher can try to reschedule one of your school's INSET days so it falls on the polling day.

If your school is staying open

Your school leaders should:

  • Plan for how they'll keep members of the public separate from pupils
    • This includes during breaktimes or in an incident like a fire evacuation
    • This might involve producing a risk assessment
  • Know how they'll handle a member of public accessing the rest of the school or causing an incident
  • Let parents know in advance about any changes in arrangements for the school day, such as for dropping off or collecting children

The information in this section was outlined in Nicky Morgan's letter to the Electoral Commission.

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