5th June 1998 at 01:00
Joan Sallis Answers your questions. Q: As a new recruit I've been into school for several learning days. One thing that shocked me was the lunch break, which has been reduced to only 40 minutes. In that time two sittings are crowded into a dining room, plus a short time for packed lunches. The children's digestions must suffer - they were eating finger food all over the building and playground - and behaviour is not what a good parent would try to establish. Is it a matter for governors? If so, what can we do?

A: The TES had a feature on this very subject on May 1. It appears that what you experienced is widespread. Admission policies and budgets based on numbers have in many schools put pressure on dining space and recreation facilities. The national curriculum and the push for higher standards have put similar pressure on the school day. In many schools too few teachers volunteer for lunchtime supervision and midday supervisors are hard to recruit. Lunchtime therefore often involves poor behaviour.

Quite a few schools are radically reviewing their use of time, and some have adopted longer mornings and organised recreation in the afternoon instead of lunch-time clubs. Many teachers would argue that the school meal is not part of education and also that the family sit-down meal is a thing of the past in many homes. Some parents feel that schools should lead, not follow, and if it is fuddy-duddy to think that an appetising meal eaten in pleasant conditions with companions is educational, line me up with the fuddy-duddies too. But at the same time I am realistic about the pressures on schools and the problems.

It is a matter for governors, without doubt. We share responsibility for the arrangements made for children's work, recreation and welfare. If other governors are as concerned as you about lunchtimes, you must get it onto the agenda. You will have to be realistic about the kind of pressures I have mentioned, but some improvements are surely possible. One obvious one is to provide another space for those who bring packed lunches, and I would have thought that some control of eating "all over the building and playground" was desirable in every sense.

Imminent changes may help you. If the new Education Framework and Standards Bill goes through as drafted, we shall soon have nutritional standards for school meals, as prevailed before 1980. And proposals to delegate responsibility for school meals to governors (see page 22) will also put the subject on the agenda.

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