Regular correspondent Aeres has raised with me the disruption caused to schools at election time when polling stations cause them to close.
He points out that the school attended by his child has been closed twice this year (for the local elections and the referendum). He adds;
Surely if the council is committed to increasing school attendance it should be reconsidering whether the school is the only suitable building in the area with which to house a polling station? Although my daughter attends Whinfield, we actually live on 'the other side of the railway line' meaning that our polling station is a portacabin on Glebe Road. As we are able to vote perfectly well in such base surroundings surely the people of Haughton could vote somewhere else and not disrupt the education of their children? On the flip side it may even be good politically and enphasise the message that 'education matters'.
I think that's an entirely valid set of points. The Council is currently in the throes of a review of polling districts and polling places. Comments have been received - not surprisingly, the issue highlighted by Aeres was raised by a number of people. You can see the officers' initial responses to the consultation here. If anyone would like to comment of the feedback, then they can do so by emailing email@example.com. This will inform a report to Full Council next month.
There are, of course, no easy solutions. I understand that Redcar and Cleveland took the decision a couple of years ago to not use schools as polling stations at all, preferring portakabins, but are now having to reconsider as securing access for disabled people has proved a real problem. Portakabins are also expensive (£2,000 for a day's hire each) and in Darlington they are then fitted with a special ramp so everyone can use them, (costing another £2,000 a time).
Feedback from staff who staffed the portakabins during the referendum was that they were very cold, as the doors had to be always open. They also can't take account of tellers from the various parties. They tend to lack toilet facilities.
It should also be remembered that it isn't the Council which closes schools, but the headteacher concerned. Now the Council is looking to work with affected schools to see whether it would be possible to use some of the premises as a polling station whilst ensuring that the rest of the building stays open. In the long-term, that may be the most effective way of keeping more kids at school (and their parents at work) on polling days.