Schools' duties when it comes to politics – where do they stand?
Elections definitely carry a lot of risk for political parties. Schools too need to be aware of their duties when it comes to politics. Under s.406 of the Education Act 1996, the pursuit of partisan political activities or promotion of partisan political views are forbidden for maintained schools. Section 407 of the Education Act 1996 further provides that:
"the local education 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 while they are in attendance at a maintained school; or taking part in extra-curricular activities which are provided or organised for registered pupils at the school by or on behalf of the school, they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views."
For Academies the same requirements apply under the funding agreement. These requirements will apply at all times – not just elections.
In addition, political speakers at educational establishments can raise human rights issues around freedom of expression, academic freedom and consideration must also be given to the prevent agenda. Schools should also be aware that complaints may be made if a particular candidate (because of extreme views) was excluded while others were invited.
Further, under the Representation of the People Act 1983, candidates may request the use of school buildings (but not during school hours) for the purposes of holding meetings. This provision is not expressly matched in the model funding agreement and therefore may not apply to academies.
If you would like further information, please contact our specialist Education Law team.