No school for 23 days out of 28

PARENTS in South Ribble will be tearing their hair out next month, as schoolchildren are set to get 23 days off in the space of just 28.

With Easter, bank holidays, the Royal Wedding and local government elections falling so close to each other this year, some pupils will only be in class for five days in four weeks.

Nine schools across the borough are closing on May 5 so that people can visit polling stations based in the halls and classrooms between 7am and 10pm, to vote in the local authority elections and the national referendum.

Along with the two-week Easter break from April 11 to April 26, including Good Friday on April 22 and Easter Monday on April 25, the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, the May Day bank holiday on May 2, and weekends, this means that pupils will hardly be in school for the four-week period.

Fourteen schools across the borough have been chosen as polling station sites, and nine of those are closing to students as a result, using the opportunity to have in-service teacher training days, known as INSET days.

Farington Community Primary School, Northbrook Community Primary School, Golden Hill School in Leyland, St Leonard’s CE Primary School in Walton-le-Dale, St Mary and St Benedict’s Catholic Primary School in Bamber Bridge, Penwortham’s Whitefield Community Primary School, Cop Lane CE Primary School, and St Mary Magdalen RC School, and Coupe Green Community Primary School in Hoghton, which falls under the Coupe Green and Gregson Lane ward, will all be shut for the day on May 5.

Six of these wards have alternative polling stations, such as church halls and community centres, but the council deemed it necessary to have more than one location for people to visit where wards are fairly large.

Coun Margaret Smith, Leader of South Ribble Borough Council, said: “Wherever possible we try to avoid using schools as polling stations, but sometimes no other venue with the level of access required is available, and therefore we do have to rely on using the schools and their goodwill.

“Many of the schools being used will choose to schedule an INSET day to coincide with the election. Every school is legally required to undertake a number of INSET days per year, so this would not be an extra day that the school is closed.

“Where we can, we work with schools to ensure we cause as little disruption as possible, for instance using a classroom with a side entrance to not disturb pupils if the school is not closing.”

There are a number of reasons for some schools having to shut. Farington Primary School said it’s a security issue, because they have to disable the alarms while members of the public use the school, which wouldn’t make the children safe.

St Leonard’s said they have to use the school hall, meaning there would be nowhere for the children to eat their dinners.

Some schools are able to stay open because they have earmarked rooms that are separate from the main area, such as Walton-le-Dale Primary School, which has allocated the school’s nursery for the day.

Leyland Moss Side Primary School, Penwortham Community Primary School, Moorhey Special School in Lostock Hall and St Patrick’s RC Primary School in Walton-le-Dale will also remain open on May 5.

Business manager at St Patrick’s, Margaret Smith, said: “We feel it’s important to carry on the children’s education if we can. Closing for the election would have meant us taking an additonal day off school because we’ve already planned our INSET days for the year.

“We’ve used an access route to the school hall which keeps the children secure from members of the public in the past, and that’s always worked well for us.”

Bob Stott, Lancashire County Council’s director for universal and prevention services, said: “The Easter break and the May Day holiday fall close to each other this year and now, between the two, there is the bank holiday which has been declared for the royal wedding.

“In addition, some schools are being used as polling stations for the local government elections on May 5.

“These are issues which are outside our control but schools which are used as polling stations are expected to plan ahead and use polling day for teacher training to minimise disruption.”