A wait off your mind

16th March 2007 at 00:00
Good control of lunch queues can keep trouble off the menu, writes Paul Blum

senior managers do the lion's share of lunch duties and corridor patrols in mostJ schools and this brings them into regular contact with meal supervisors.J Whatever their training and experience, some meal supervisors seem to get into regular confrontations with pupils of all ages.JA queue in a dining room is one of the hottest spots in the school day.JUnless you work in a very calm school, these queues can quickly resemble an angry mob on the first day of the January sales, with a sea of bodies pushing and shoving.

Whether you stagger lunch hours or let some pupils off site to ease the pressure, there always seem to be too many children trying to pass through the canteen.

Meal supervisors often demand the highestJ standards of behaviourJfrom pupils and are frequently greater in their insistence than teachers are in lessons. Indeed, some meal staff seem to despise certain teaching staff, including some or all of the leadership team, for their lax standards.JBut their demands for good mannersJcan backfire because they do not have the moral authority that comes from the positive relationships with pupils that teachers build in the classroom.

Most teachers know that the "squaddie manner"Jdoesn't work,Jbut some supervisors charge into confrontation, trading insults with pupils.

Unfortunately, when things go wrong meal staff often expect the nearest senior manager to bail them out, and often won't respect their right to be off duty. If you are trying to enjoy your own short lunch break in peace, they'll be happy to drag you into a shouting match with your mouth full. In fact, they may be more likely to engineer a confrontation when they see senior management around.

You will do well at managing lunch staff if youJare nice and chatty to them in those quiet moments during lunch duty when everyone is relaxed. For those difficult moments,Jexplain to individual supervisors who constantly expect you to reinforce their authority that you are not always on duty and are sometimes just getting your lunch, in which case they should leave you alone unless there is a real emergency.

Whatever happens, don't get drawn on the subject of pupils' terrible manners and behaviour: it is an invitation to a long commentary on how teachers aren't strict enough, how young people don't respect their elders and how it wasn't like this when they were at school.

Given that some of the meal supervisors I work with are my age or younger, I know that the golden age to which they refer never really existed. But in the end it's not worth arguing about it. Instead, note how intolerant some adults are of the shortcomings of many of their own sons, daughters, nephews and nieces.

Paul Blum is deputy head of a London school and author of Surviving and Succeeding in Senior School Management (RoutledgeFalmer, 2006)


Organise the meal supervisors so that they are in position at least two or three minutes before a queue begins to form.JIf the queue starts in an orderly fashion, it is much easier to keep it that way.

Most pupils will queue in a fair "first come, first served" way if there is order.JBut 5 per cent - mostly boys - will try to jump the queue. If you stop them and send them to the back of the queue, everybody else will feel that justice has been done.

If you arrive when the queue has got off to a bad start, the best way to intervene is to form a human barrier by stepping into the middle and regulating the flow of people past you from that position. This won't be perfect but will help to restore order for lunch staff.

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