Making Lunchtimes Happier

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.

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Attendance

We've achieved...

97.6%

Our target is...

97.4%