Schools are full of heroes and heroines, those adults who work ceaselessly to try to find ways forward for children. But one group is often overlooked - midday supervisors.
These truly forgotten heroines (and they are usually heroines) have to put up with the vagaries of the British weather as well as the vagaries of children on their break from numeracy and literacy hours.
A few years ago, as a primary head, I gave my teaching staff the briefest taste of life on the playground at lunchtime. Our professional day had a break at lunchtime, and I told them that, before lunch at 12.30pm, we were all going on to the playground to "stretch our legs and have a play".
They looked at me as if I was mad, and for the next half-hour they trundled around the playground muttering and cursing under their collective breath. I gently reminded them that we expected our children to spend time on our then bleak and barren Tarmac desert - and we expected a group of largely untrained and inexperienced women to look after them, and keep them amused and out of trouble.
Over the next few months we talked about how we could improve our playground environment and let the children have fun. The half-hour the teachers had spent on the playground was time well spent.
Roll forward a few years. Headship is now a fading memory. I am now social inclusion project co-ordinator for Peterborough City Council's education department. My role, with two education welfare officers, is to help schools, children and families avoid exclusions. We help schools reintegrate pupils after exclusions and try to show them how to avoid being forced to follow that route in the first place.
While visiting schools in 1999 collecting data for evaluating our work, I was struck by just how many fixed-term exclusions, particularly in primary schools, followed poor behaviour at lunchtimes. Listless children roaming free with little or no guidance as to how to play sensibly (whatever that means) were leaving heads and teachers with hours of "mopping up" in the afternoons.
Many heads bemoaned the fact that they could spend the whole afternoon following a lunch break gathering information, collecting evidence and sorting out situations. They wished they could spend more time monitoring the curriculum or observing in classrooms. These activities went by the board due to the never-ending torrent of "things to sort out".
I decided to put together a short course containing materials that might be of use to midday supervisors. The four-week course - an hour a week - was usually held straight after lunch in their own schools.
Initially the supervisors were wary. Many had not attended any courses since their own chooldays - and several subsequently admitted to skipping lessons or skiving off altogether. The early sessions included recalling our own school experiences, organising the lunch period and taking a brief look at behaviour management, job descriptions, games-playing and a possible playground policy statement. Schools have policies for everything, so why not one for what is expected and offered in the playground?
I usually followed up these short sessions by presenting attendance certificates in a special assembly. This highlighted their efforts in front of the whole school and celebrated their achievements.
The main benefit has not necessarily been the course content but more the fact that the supervisors have had the chance to sit down together to discuss their role and functions, as well as how they would react to various situations.
Although these initial sessions were undoubtedly a success, I needed to take things further, perhaps to present some of the ideas to a wider audience. Enter Jackie Remnant, a colleague who is the local education authority's PSHE co-ordinator. In the middle of last year the two of us pooled our ideas, experience and expertise and gradually a package began to take shape around the title of "dinner dinner Batman" - a name designed not only to reflect that hoary old children's joke but also to allude to the superhero nature of the midday supervisor's job.
"Dinner dinner Batman" (see box) might not change the world, but it might just help to make the lunchtime experience a little more pleasurable for children and adults alike.
TO THE RESCUE
Our training package for managers and senior supervisors in schools, "dinner dinner Batman", covers communication and organisation, staffing and people, physical environment and behaviour management and is designed to:
* be an integral part of the school's PSHE development;
* help schools raise the profile and quality of playtime provision;
* assist schools to regard lunchtimes as an integral part of the school day;
* enable school and staff to advance lunchtime systems and practice;
* develop and broaden children's social and emotional well-being;
* increase the confidence and status of midday supervisors and co-ordinators;
* raise awareness of issues that arise at lunchtimes;
* help schools reduce the number of exclusions that follow conflict at lunchtimes.
The pack can be used as a stand-alone resource or as part of training provided by Toby Wood and Jackie Remnant. It costs pound;30 and is available from Toby WoodJackie Remnant, Education Department, Peterborough City Council, Bayard Place, Broadway, Peterborough PE1 1FB. e-mail: toby.wood@ peterborough.gov.ukCheques should be made payable to Peterborough City Council