Lunchtime: the most important break of the day

Ofsted regularly focuses on lunchtime behaviour. To get the precious hour right needs creative thinking and carefully planned whole-school systems

The lunchtime break is many children’s favourite time of the school day – and, in a moment of honesty, some teaching staff may admit to feeling the same! During this precious hour children eat, let off steam, learn to play co-operatively, and develop social skills to enable them to become rounded and civilised human beings. What could be more important? Well, at least equally important is an opportunity for teaching staff to have a chance to unwind, recharge their batteries, and prepare for the next round in class.

Senior managers on duty during lunchtime are likely to tell a very different story. They know that when lunchtime goes pear-shaped, afternoon learning suffers. Picking up the pieces can be time-consuming and stressful. To add to the pressure, they also know that Ofsted regularly focuses on lunchtime behaviour and bullying reduction – and that it is during this less structured period that accidents, bullying and other behavioural problems are most likely to happen.

So lunchtimes need creative thinking and carefully planned whole school systems.

Consider who can best supervise the children at lunchtimes. Will it be the capable and trusted teaching assistants or specifically employed lunchtime supervisors who work for short periods every days? There are pros and cons to both options. Using teaching assistants can add to continuity, but may create a long and demanding day for staff, with inadequate time for eating and unwinding, while lunchtime supervisors may be less skilled and can find it harder to feel empowered, informed or included. Schools may chose to use a mixture of teaching assistants, lunchtime supervisors, play leaders and learning mentors.

Create an inclusive whole school ethos in which all staff and children are valued. Messages about tolerance of difference and inclusion can be reinforced regularly throughout the school day.

Ensure the whole school community understands that the lunchtime team is in charge during the midday break, and that their authority is reinforced in assembly, classroom, and with parents. Children will observe how teachers and senior managers relate to support staff, which sends a clear message about how valued they really are.

Encourage lunchtime supervisors to use the staffroom (the hub of communication), and invite them whenever possible to school events and staff socials.

Formulate a whole school behaviour policy that outlines consistent, clear sanctions and rewards to be used during lunchtime and during the rest of the school day.

Develop a lunchtime team of well trained and supported people. Use Inset days to offer a range of training focusing on behaviour management skills, health and safety, safeguarding, positive play, as well as greater awareness of the requirements of children with special needs or behavioural issues.

Consult pupils and supervisors about what they need at lunchtime, and include both groups in the training and creation of supportive initiatives including buddy schemes, active play and lunchtime clubs.

Encourage communication between teaching staff and lunchtime supervisors so all are aware of what is happening in the playground and classroom.

Develop excellent communication systems through which lunchtime staff acquire relevant information about school issues and about the children. Ensure they know where information is kept, and that they receive hard copies of things like the newsletter (not all lunchtime staff will be computer literate).

Offer regular structured meetings with a senior managers and the lunchtime team to clarify expectations, explore good practice, and to consult about relevant lunchtime developments.

Arrange regular meetings for the Senco and lunchtime team, to offer support and to discuss initiatives and strategies used to support specific children. Information about pupils must be shared on “a need to know basis”, although support staff often complain that they are not told enough to help them to understand the child.

Shirley Rose is the author of The Handbook of Lunchtime Supervision (Routledge 2010). www.shirleyrose.co.uk

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  1. Gerald Haigh

    What happened to the practice, which I saw in some secondaries when I was visiting lot of them (eighties, nineties) of timetabling lunch as as lesson slot, at varying times class to class? At no time was there a large number of children out of class, the lunch room was manageable, and the timetabled slot left very little time for anything other than eating and toilet. Lunchtime club activities were out of the question, but an earlier pm finish provided opportunities. Many staff in any case felt the tight control of lunchtime was worth the inconvenience.