Swipe cards and chips

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Our school has taken a giant leap forward and gone over to cashless catering. At first this sounded like a desperate move to offer free meals, perhaps in an attempt to break pupils of their habit of terrorising the local supermarket at lunchtime. It turned out to be a system of swipe cards. Cashless catering had to happen sooner or later, I suppose. After all, the canteens have been supplying nutrition-less catering for the past 20 years.

It has taken a few months, several false starts and a lot of rumbling stomachs to reach the point we are at now: organised chaos. First, we had the photo ID cards that failed to match the name with the photo. One boy in Year 10 had a picture of a sweet Year 7 girl on his card, complete with pigtails and a brace.

Then a second set of cards was issued without photos, inconveniencing the pupils who had used theirs to prove they qualified for half-price bus fares. Once that stage was sorted we moved on to trying to use the cards to buy food. In theory, pupils put cash into a machine that credits their card. Their card is then swiped at the till when they buy food. In practice, every pupil wants to put money on their card at Monday morning break. The queue resembles a lynch mob and it usually gets very ugly when the third or fourth person in the queue stuffs their bent card into the machine and it jams. This brings the whole system grinding to a halt.

Staff are also stressed by the new technology. Our free meal for running a lunchtime club is credited to our cards via the computer, which does it after morning break, and the free meal expires at the end of the day. This means you have to run a club, and get your lunch at the same time. Proof, if ever there was, that teachers are believed to be capable of doing two jobs at once. One member of staff, however, has found that whatever she spends is credited to her card. She is now pound;40 in credit. At last a perk of the job? Not exactly. Could you eat pound;40 worth of school dinners?

This brings me to the obvious solution to the whole situation. My advice to staff and pupils who are fed up of queues and cock-ups: walk past the cash machine, do not queue in the canteen. Go straight to a table, take your dinner card in one hand with the metallic strip to your left, place in your mouth and bite. It might be a bit chewy, but it is less stressful than the alternative and, surely, even a swipe card has more nutritional value than a dinner of school chips, cheese and beans.

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