The Headteacher's Blog
Welcome to Lydgate Junior School.
We aim to ensure that all children receive a high quality, enjoyable and exciting education.
We feel that our school is a true reflection of the community we serve. Lydgate children are well motivated and come from a range of social and cultural backgrounds. Within the school community we appreciate the richness of experience that the children bring to school. This enhances the learning experiences of everyone and it also gives all pupils the opportunity to develop respect and tolerance for each other by working and playing together. We want your child's time at Lydgate to be memorable for the right reasons - that is, a happy, fulfilling and successful period of his/her childhood.
Welcome to Year 3!
The Y3 teachers are Mrs Dutton & Mrs de Brouwer (3D/deB), Mrs Holden (3SH), Mrs Noble & Miss Roberts (3N/R) and Miss Wall (3AW). We have three Teaching Assistants who work within the team: Mrs Allen, Mrs Dawes and Mrs Proctor.
We will use this blog to keep you up-to-date with all the exciting things that we do in Year 3, share some of the things that the children learn and show you some of their fantastic work. We hope you enjoy reading it!
The Y3 team.
Welcome to the Year 5 Blog page.
The Year 5 teaching team includes our class teachers, Mrs Loosley (5NL), Mrs Rougvie and Mrs Jones (5RJ), Mrs Webb and Mrs Ridsdale (5WR) and Miss Cunningham (5EC). Many children are supported by Mrs Hill, Mr Swain and Ms Kania (the Year 5 Teaching Assistants) who work with children across the 4 classes. Our Year 5 teaching team aims to create a stimulating learning environment that is safe, happy, exciting and challenging, where each pupil is encouraged to achieve their full potential.
As a parent or carer, you play a massively important role in your child's development and we'd love to work closely with you. Please feel free to make an appointment to see us if you want to discuss your child's attitude to learning, their progress, attainment or anything else that might be on your mind. We'd also love to hear from you if you have any skills that we could use to make our Year 5 curriculum even more exciting. Are you an avid reader, a talented sportsman, a budding artist, a mad scientist or a natural mathematician? Would you be willing to listen to children read on a regular basis? If so, please contact your child’s class teacher. Similarly, if you have a good idea, a resource, a 'contact' or any other way of supporting our learning in year 5, please let us know.
We are working very hard to ensure your child has a successful year 5, please help us with this by ensuring your child completes and returns any homework they are given each week. If there are any issues regarding homework or your child finds a particular piece of homework challenging, then please do not hesitate to come and speak to us. In order to help improve your child’s reading skills, increase their vocabulary and develop their comprehension skills, we also ask that you listen to your child read and ask them questions to ensure they have understood what they have read.
We look forward to keeping you up to date on the exciting things that we do in year 5 through our year group blog.
The Year 5 Team
We are the children in Y6 at Lydgate Junior School. There are 120 of us and our teachers are: Mrs Shaw and Mrs Watkinson (Y6S/W), Mr Bradshaw (until Mrs Parker returns) in Y6AP), Mrs Phillips (Y6CP) and Miss Norris (Y6HN). Also teaching in Year 6 is Miss Lee (Monday - Y6AP, Tuesday - Y6HN and Wednesday - Y6S/W) and Mrs Grimsley (Tuesday -Y6CP).We are also very lucky to be helped by Mrs Ainsworth and Mrs Biggs. We use this space to share all of the great things that are happening in our classrooms. Join us each week on our learning journey....
The meeting of our MDSA team (Midday Supervisory Assistants) this week looked at how we are already doing at making lunchtimes a happy time in school. Though I framed each question to draw out positive examples I knew that colleagues would then add thoughts on possible improvements or gaps in what we do or provide, and challenges to the quality of what we do.
It is sensible to start positive – we really do have mostly happy lunchtimes already, and the vast majority of pupils enjoy themselves during the midday break.
What came up?
Staff know individual pupils and their idiosyncratic needs,
Staff avoid drama or a crisis when things go wrong, such as a forgotten packed lunch or a spilt plate,
Children get to choose to sit with friends, rather than being directed to sit in particular places or groups,
Queues are kept to a minimum with our 20 minute start / finish stagger,
Positioning the lunch tables in less rigid patterns helps with flow and informality,
Providing equipment for the playgrounds that children request keeps more of them engaged and active,
Broken, damaged or lost equipment is simply replaced without a fuss or a scene,
Rotas help – each class has an equal allocation at each piece of equipment over the half term,
The dinner register is simply kept, and is not a challenge to what a child is having for lunch,
Children can wait so they can sit with friends, rather than being pushed through the system at speed,
Staffing levels have been maintained throughout the period of ‘austerity’,
Water is refilled and always available,
Tables are wiped, the waste trolley is supervised and cleaned continually, and plate stacks are kept short,
When we challenge how much a child is throwing away we frame it as a question, not a condemnation,
Site security is maintained, with all site visitors, known and unknown, politely welcomed and challenged,
Spilled plates are simply replaced without fuss,
A child too nervous to approach the hatch to ask is simply accompanied and supported,
Indoor lunch games happen every day,
Individual pupils who need a quieter place to sit to eat are helped with this without fuss or barrier,
Discipline, as required, is provided in-line with our ethos, respecting each child and their rights,
Requests to ‘go first’ are approved so pupils can attend lunchtime clubs and activities,
Lower playground competitive games are supervised and supported, with staff intervening to ensure positive play,
Despite all this the dining hall (the hall) is noisy and busy, the seating is hard and the hall can be cold in winter. Children, we think, do not take advantage of the range of salad, fruit and veg available. Most take too little time to look at the food on offer to make choices. We don’t like how much food ends up on the floor. There are occasional disputes out on the playground. A few children sometimes do not play with equipment appropriately (with hoops ending up in the trees, for example). Just now and then we find it hard to find an empty place for a school meal eater. The uptake of activities led by pupils themselves can be surprisingly low. We’d like to replace and renew games for indoor use. Some children would like more access to quieter spaces.
We have a list of actions we are going to take to further improve what we do:
First Aid training (renewal) for all lunchtime staff, at the most appropriate level,
Sports Leaders training for the new Year 5 volunteers, alongside MDSAs,
Lunchtime Manager training (at YPO), titled, ‘Calmer Dining Halls and Positive Lunchtimes’ for two staff,
Implement as far as possible the Catering Service recommendations from two recent visits by their managers.
While we do think we might do better, we do think that the 480 children on site (on a site built for 360)enjoy positive and happy lunchtimes already.
I shall apologise right now for this blog – it probably will sound a little ranty.
This week all schools got a letter from Nadhim Zahawi MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families. He wanted to draw our attention to the food situation of disadvantaged children, and to highlight three things in particular. These points were:
A positive lunchtime experience
Avoiding stigma, and
Access to free drinking water.
He called for examples of outstanding practice in these areas.
I felt compelled to write, not because I think our provision is ‘outstanding’ but because I think the vast majority of schools already do their utmost to address these points and because of the limiting factors that make a very uneven playing field.
Addressing those points in reverse order, we can demonstrate how they are simply not relevant to our school because we have eliminated the problems.
Water, in jugs, is provided on every table at lunchtime. The four cloakrooms in the main building have fresh water fountains (installed this year to replace old facilities). Children are encouraged to bring a water bottle that they can refill at school. We provide cups (reusable) that they can otherwise use. Sorted.
Even before the introduction of an on-line payment system there was no distinction made between paid for and free school meals, at either end. The choices on offer are entirely the same. No reference is made, or even available, to FSM entitlement on the dinner register. No child is aware of the distinction, the lunchtime supervisors are not aware and neither is the kitchen. All the children who take a school meal are free to choose from the full selection on offer. When teachers take the dinner register, to record that day’s choices, there is absolutely no information displayed or available to staff or children about who does or does not pay for their meals. The children do not sit separately, queue separately, or get served separately. I say this because Mr Zahawi’s letter suggests that in some schools things are not so.
Success in providing a ‘positive lunchtime experience’ is not so straight forward. The relevant research says that, ‘Children place a high value on affordable healthy choices, avoiding queues and having enough time and space to eat with their peers’. If we pick that apart we could easily say that all three elements are met.
Our school meals cost £2.00, as simple as that. It matters not one bit what choices or quantities children take, whether they use the salad bar or not, or take a dessert, or have vegetables, or street food on a Wednesday, or what filling they put in a jacket potato, the daily cost is £2.00. The meals for a child who qualifies for FSM cost £2.00 as well.
Every meal OFFERED meets the national School Food Standards. The menus have been developed by a professional team of nutritionists, who do take children’s input and preferences as part of the design process but the restrictions of legislation can over-rule these desires. Then, of course, it very much depends on what children actually take and then subsequently eat. I have written many times about this: many children do not take a vegetable or salad choice, and many restrict their choice of dessert to something similar each day. The amount we later pick off the floor or that goes into waste bins is frustrating, baffling and troubling. It does demonstrate the gulf between offer and uptake. The answer to this is far from simple: when I asked parents whether they would support school in placing restrictions on what could be sent in as snacks the overwhelming response was to reject the idea of me being the arbiter of what was ‘healthy’. I cannot imagine a good level of support if I wanted to enforce taking and eating the full offer of fruit and veg with each meal. Money, what a surprise, would help, but it would need to be substantial. A purpose-built and extra dining room would benefit the lunchtime experience, but our annual capital funding of less than £10,000 is never going to provide that. The Government’s grant of £24 million is only actually supporting 1,700 breakfast clubs – I say ‘only’ because there are more than 32,000 Primary Schools in the UK – and they are targeted at disadvantaged areas. The chance of our pupils benefiting is close to zero.
We avoid queues as far as absolutely possible by having an unusual staggered lunch break. The school was built for 360 pupils and having 485 means we would have 125 children queuing for a long time if we just kept the one start / end time. Effectively we save 240 children a day from queuing for 20 minutes each – a staggering 15,200 hours a year saved! We do not force ‘second sitting’ classes to queue – but they do anyway! We have tried to improve this further when we investigated a portable servery arrangement to go in the hall, but the physical layout and logistics simply make it impossible. We are concerned a little by the shortness of time children spend at the servery hatch; it is here that staff might be able to introduce something new, fresh, healthy or extra. A second servery might help that. We support the return of trays and plates through staffing to reduce or remove queues at the back end of things. Daily observation tells us that all children are out of the hall and outside playing for at least 15 minutes each day, and that the last ones out are last because they choose to stay and chat in the hall.
Governors, in discussion with our school meal provider, recently asked if we could increase the cost of meals if it led to an improvement in quality of ingredients or the quality of meal provision by increasing staffing. We were told they is no mechanism for this.
What made me reply to Mr Zahawi’s letter was not a self-evaluation as ‘outstanding’ but the idea that a blanket letter is appropriate and that the answer (to a not necessarily significant issue) is within the school’s control. I suspect that many of the issues are Secondary School based, so why write to Primary Schools at all? And with our one-hall-does-all what exactly can we do to improve the place children eat?
A copy of the letter from Mr Zahawi is available from this link:
Let’s call a spade a shovel, shall we, and just talk about the problems we have in ‘the dining room experience’?
It is too loud, too much food is wasted, the Hall can be cold in poor weather, some children are behaving poorly despite repeated warnings, shocking amounts of food are dropped on the floor, cutlery joins it too often, little fruit or vegetable is taken, fingers are often the chosen implement for feeding, and the whole thing is rushed.
Despite a defensive tendency, I will happily argue that anything and everything is possible. We could surely address every one these problems, as long as we accept the costs involved?
To reduce noise we could carpet the Hall, use acoustic-engineering to dampen echoes, have individual tray return stacks instead of a single collection trolley with a piles of plates, bowls and trays, and cutlery lobbed in a tray, have far fewer children in the Hall at one time, use more spaces for eating (such as the IT suite or a classroom), or build an extra dining space on-site.
To stop food waste we reduce portion sizes, or increase the quality of food, or ban playtime snacks outright, or force every child to clear their plate at every meal.
We have a one-way movement scheme in place due to numbers and space, so the rear door of the Hall is used as the exit. It is a single barrier and heat escapes and cold enters every time it is opened. The solution would be a ‘heat curtain’ of sufficient strength or an extension beyond the Hall to act as an air lock.
This month’s Behaviour Incident reports from lunchtime staff show four occasions on which (Year 6) pupils have been admonished for throwing food, and a couple of taking someone else’s food and throwing it around, a couple for shouting in the Hall. Solutions include closer supervision of those children, reminders about behaviour expectations, sanctions including not sitting with their friends, separate eating time for those children, or exclusion at lunchtime, hoping it goes away, and not allowing these children in the Hall at all.
We had one incident where a pupil was standing on the seat and shouting across the Hall. I could simply exclude that child at lunchtimes (each lunchtime exclusion counts as a half day, and as I can exclude for up to 15 days without making it permanent the exclusion could last most of the next half term.)
Food on the floor includes whole pieces of fish, chips, grapes, slices of bread, sandwich filling, new potatoes, slices of fruit, crackers, sliced cheese, potato wedges, … As well as the waste and carelessness / selfishness of the act it means that the floor has to be washed each day after lunch and so the afternoon access for PE is delayed. With only the one Hall we could do without the delay. We try to spot it happening but very rarely do. Any attempt to persuade a child to pick it up is met with denial that it is theirs. Possible solutions include: eating in silence, facing the table squarely, having a place inspected before permission is given to leave, wearing pelican bibs, spoon-feeding, or children responding to our repeated requests to be more responsible.
Cutlery gets dropped all along the way, from the trays in the servery right through to the collection and disposal point, ‘Rosie’. It just doesn’t seem to get picked up by children – they perhaps do not notice it on the floor. Perhaps we need pots of cutlery on the tables, or wider trays so plate, bowl, cup and cutlery have a bit more room, a ‘count them out and count them back’ approach to issuing cutlery, or just to accept some spillage as inevitable when 477 are passing through for dinner.
School dinners have a 100% record of meeting the school food standards. It’s part of the contract with Taylor Shaw. But what is on a child’s plate, and what they actually eat, is not the same as what is on offer, because we do not ever force a child to take from the full range available. If they didn’t want any from the baked beans, green beans, cucumber, sweetcorn, cherry tomatoes, salad leaves, mandarin orange slices, fruit salad or fresh whole fruit on offer yesterday we did not make them take any. I do and will comment to children as I notice ‘no fruit, no veg?’ but it draws little more than a wry smile. We think that putting it on a plate regardless will simply create waste and friction, so we don’t. What’s to be done: accept it as inevitable (a recurring option), put veg / fruit on every plate, insist at least one portion is selected, do away with the School Food Standards, continue to prompt, advertise the offer to parents and see if generational pressure might work, educate, hide veg / fruit in pies, biscuits, sauces, custard, yoghurt, pizza topping, try to enforce buy in or opt out (take the full offer or do not take it at all), model by adults taking a school meal.
I do acknowledge the global creep of Americanisation in all things, including how we eat, and the rise of Street Food. But schools are supposed, and are expected, to teach more than just the core curriculum. So, old-fashioned as it may seem, we will continue to distribute knives and forks and expect children to use them. Not as ‘lollipop sticks’ either, with a whole sausage skewered onto the fork, but to cut up into bite sized pieces, and eat neatly. The ever-popular baked potato seems to defeat many attempts at using a knife to cut up food, with just the inner soft potato spooned out. We could go all-out on Street Food and finger food menus I suppose, and alleviate the problem of dropped cutlery at the same time, but it does little for manners. We could remind, expect, cajole, reward, praise, teach, demonstrate, assist, engage the support of parents, make food softer / liquid, not serve anything that is begging to be picked up in fingers (chips, wedges, biscuits, pizza, sliced bread, carrot sticks, pasta salad) and only serve broth, and soup and stews and casseroles.
An academic study by a leading nutritionist showed that children typically spend very little time at the hatch choosing their meal. The Sheffield School Meal Study (The School Food Plan and the social context of food in schools: Caroline Sarojini Hart, Mar 2016) wrote: many children preferred to eat quickly, or not eat the whole meal, in order to have more time to play. Time to eat was limited by the need to get many children in and out of dining spaces that could not cater to all pupils at once. (The photo of a ‘well-stocked, large, self-service salad bar’ (Figure 3) is from our school, by the way.) We could build a second dining area, spread lunch break over two hours, making eating and playing separate times so all of one period was in the Hall, have a formal Breakfast Club then Snack Break and have lunch at the end of the school day giving a limitless period to go play, or continue to persuade children not to queue if they are on second sitting – they could go play first and be called when needed.
We will be working on this. Some are simply in the category of unacceptable and will be directly challenged. Some will go to School Council to get pupils support that way. Some will be part of discussions with Taylor Shaw, and others will go out to parents.
I have put out a call for parents to come and sample a school lunch and lunchtime, and then participate in a Round Table conversation on their thoughts and observations. That may also produce some alternative insights. In the meantime we have a legal duty to provide a hot meal every day, and to provide free meals for those that qualify. We will continue to work with children to try to make the experience of every child better than it has been recently.
So a study published this week in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) shows that Primary Schools’ efforts to help cut obesity, and improve physical activity, don’t work.
More than 600 primary school pupils in the West Midlands took part in a 12-month anti-obesity programme.
But the study found no improvements in the children's diet or activity levels.
This was despite the involvement of the local Premier League football team, cooking classes and clubs, 30 minutes of exercise each school day, and advertising local family exercise.
My observation in school is that some children simply do not take up what is on offer:
I counted the numbers of children who took no fruit, vegetable or salad from the range on offer with the regular school meal over the last two days. Logic would suggest that, in our affluent, middle class, well-educated, advantaged area, our pupils would be familiar with all that we have on offer and keen to sample green beans, sweetcorn, peas, apples, pears, baked beans, melon, tomatoes, cucumber, salad leaves, couscous and so on. Yesterday one half of all the meal takers had no fruit, vegetable or salad on their plate. Chilli and rice, wraps, jacket potato, but no veg, fruit or salad. Today, with the most popular menu of the week, over one third had none of the three (but only if I count baked beans as a vegetable). Fish, chips, and sometimes just chips, no veg, fruit, salad and sometimes no pudding.
We have trained pupils to act as Playground Playmakers. They organise and run games and activities on the top playground every day. They are keen – they volunteered for the role, and always turn up. What is striking is how few children join in the games they arrange. Today there were often no more than five children participating, out of the 342 in school!
Ask a child who does participate and what you find is that it is just one of the many things that they do each week – tomorrow’s cross country runners will then be off to skate, swim or dance, for example. To coin a phrase, ‘Those who do, do. Those who don’t, won’t’. It could be a dispiriting and difficult hill to climb, but we find ways to address the issues.
What the recipe for the menu does is slide in under-cover fruit and vegetable. The chilli had carrot and tomato, the wraps had peppers. The sponge included apple puree in the recipe, and the chocolate crunch bar had orange in the blend. If we can just make sure that they do eat what they choose to take …
In the next two months Governors must decide what to do about the forecast school budget deficit. I have to find suggestions and work on recommendations, given their strategic guidance.
Governors will either set priorities for increased and protected spending (and by implication what we might cut) or make the bold decision to run with a ‘licensed deficit’ assuming that the Local Authority will allow us to carry a deficit from year to year if we can present a reasonable, realistic plan to reduce it in time. Carrying a deficit then costs interest on the ‘loan’ or overdraft, only serving to add to the debt over the next year.
In previous years Governors have asked senior leaders to simply trim, gently, everywhere, as and when cautiously possible.
It has felt a lot like ‘shrinkflation’, the process where manufacturers avoid putting up prices by reducing the size of products. Toilet rolls have fewer sheets, tins of chocolates are smaller, juice cartons hold less fluid. Toblerone, famously, has increased the gap between its mountains. Costs go up and companies cannot make a loss so they either have to raise prices or reduce costs. ‘Shrinkflation’ allows cost savings. Can schools use the same process?
- We employ fewer teachers than three years ago, but have exactly the same number of classes and pupils.
- We have fewer senior posts than three years ago –two from three.
- We reduced direct staffing for pastoral work when a colleague retired.
- We collect money, but no longer pay for a cash collection (we use online payment systems instead).
- We send out more newsletters, letters and communications to parents than ever before, but only 20 each time on paper, cutting our printing costs (and possibly increasing the same for the end-user) by using email and text.
- We no longer provide a crèche at Parent Consultations.
- We have the grass cut less often.
- We give out fewer physical prizes and awards to pupils.
Not much shrinkage there, is there?
The bold, challenging, out-of-the-box approach might be to shrink the length of the school day, or parts of it. The law only requires school to open to pupils on 380 ‘sessions’, but does not say how long a session is. There is no legal minimum length of a school day. We could therefore shrink the school day and employ staff for fewer hours and thus save wages. You think this is unrealistic? Many schools are already doing just this!
On Friday this week, despite it being the day with the highest school meals uptake, all the children were finished in the Hall by 12:55. We could simply shrink the lunch break by 15 minutes and save 16 hours on supervisor contracts each week, around £7,500 per year.
If we shrank the teaching day we could employ fewer teaching assistant hours – anyone engaged in 1 to 1 work for supervision or direct support purposes would not be needed for that time. We could save another £2,500 by finishing 15 minutes earlier.
This would save us cash on utilities as we use less energy and water.
We could provide additional support only to those pupils with recognised additional needs and cut support staff.
We could increase class sizes by accepting more pupils or losing more teaching staff.
We could drop another senior leadership post (we have only two) and by less available to parents and agencies.
We could freeze our involvement in staff training and thus freeze our practice and knowledge.
We could stop all free extras, and either save the cost, charge for them or redirect the staffing resource. This would include choir, cross country, inter-school sports in school time, forest school, art club, orchestra in school time, golden time, providing counter signatures on official forms and photos, providing spaces for instrument lessons and all after school clubs…
International comparisons on length of lunchtimes are fascinating - up to two hours in France, and as little as twenty minutes in the United States. There is, generally, still no lunch break in German schools, and an hour and ten minutes for lunch in South Korea. The average and norm in the UK is around an hour but 1/6 of Secondaries have reduced their lunchbreak in the last 20 years, and 96% of the same schools now have no afternoon break! Hampshire Local Authority is so concerned it has launched a toolkit for a successful lunchtime and called it ‘the fifth lesson’.
And ask children (like in this study in Ireland: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/parenting/what-children-say-about-school-lunch-time-1.2079949 ) and they tell you they simply don’t have a long enough break to eat, talk and play.
The only conclusion I reach from all this is that I can see both (all?) sides of every debate, but not always come to a clear conclusion. Something is going to have to give, or we are going to have to change a long-held practice of balancing the budget.