Parents’ anger as Billingshurst school ‘forced’ to be polling station

JPCT 280115 S15040604x Billingshurst Primary School. Do not want polling station at the school -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-150128-124708001

JPCT 280115 S15040604x Billingshurst Primary School. Do not want polling station at the school -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-150128-124708001

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A Billingshurst primary school is being ‘forced’ to act as a polling station for this year’s election in a move that has angered parents.

Helen Williamson, headteacher at Billingshurst Primary School, has told Horsham District Council the introduction of free school meals for the first three year groups now means that both its halls are used at lunchtime.

She has argued against the school’s use as a polling station for voting in the General Election on Thursday May 7 but has ‘kept hitting a brick wall’ with the council.

However HDC has said that no other premises are as suitable in that part of the village, while disruption would be ‘minimal’ when judged against the importance of supporting the democratic process.

Miss Williamson, who has been headteacher since 2010, said: “We do not want to be a polling station as it affects the wellbeing and welfare of our children.”

She added: “Parents are very angry. A huge number of them have sent emails because there’s no rationale and it impacts on the welfare of their children.”

She feels there are other more suitable locations that have not been fully explored and has offered her assistance in finding one, while holding an inset day was not an option, as suggested by the council, as it was in the middle of their testing regime and was a week after a bank holiday.

If ‘forced’ to operate as a polling station they would have to seal off one hall and ask for children in the reception class to bring in packed lunches for a day.

After the school was given an Inadequate Ofsted rating in May last year Miss Williamson described how they were ‘working incredibly hard to make sure we make really good progress’, and said they ‘will always put the children first’.

A spokesperson for HDC described how the primary school had been used as a polling station since 2009 with the ‘full and continuing support’ of West Sussex County Council, while there were no other premises which were suitable in terms of access for disabled people, size and location.

St Gabriel’s Church Hall and the Billingshurst Centre are also being used as polling stations and the council said it had given the school plenty of notice to make alternative arrangements.

The spokesperson added: “Elections take place on a single day no more than once a year and therefore the level of disruption to schools is minimal when judged against the importance of supporting the democratic process.”