It is refreshing that the Government has introduced a new incentive of free school meals for young children.
Over the last 10 years Jamie Oliver has campaigned for healthy school lunches. I applaud him for his tireless campaigning to promote and make changes in what our children eat whilst they are at school. Children should be given freshly cooked food.
One of the things I strongly dislike about the school lunch environment is the use, in some schools, of these trays:
My reason for disliking them is that prisoners’ meals are served on these trays! Surely our children deserve better than this?
There is excellent practice in the classrooms, but then at lunch-times there is a shift in quality, which could easily be avoided. In essence, quality practice should be seen in all areas and at all times throughout the school day.
A few schools have defended the practice with comments along the lines of “we are a large school and have to make sure that all the children are feed, especially with the launch of free school meals”. Yes, children do need to have a lunch, for a few children this might be their only substantial meal of the day, but it shouldn’t be presented like a factory production line.
Lunch-time should have a focus on children’s personal, social and emotional development: there are many learning opportunities to be had at lunch-time.
Vic Goddard, the inspirational Secondary school head from Passmore, speaks with passion when he tells how he prioritised funds for the toilets in his new school building. Vic stated “No smells; they’re cleaned four times a day because if that’s right for a motorway service station, it’s right for a school’ Guardian 29th April 2014.
Vic clearly had his pupils in mind when making changes. Therefore all head teachers can make lunch-times more personal for their pupils, especially the younger children – and most importantly for the children in Reception, who are experiencing lunch in school this term for their first time.
A parent said to me that in her son’s school, a three form entry that sometimes has a bulge of four forms, they replaced those awful trays and canteen style tables with plates, bowls and round tables. She went on to say: ‘I remember both of my older boys talking about how horrible the trays were as ‘your custard spills into the next section and mixes with your pasta. These trays make it easier for the adults not the children’.
This is echoed by Katie Atkins, Headteacher of Rosendale Primary School, Lambeth, London. Rosendale operates a three form entry school.
‘I believe that the children’s experience at lunch should be as pleasant and as much like home as possible. Eating is a social experience and we want children to eat well. I think that if these are your motivators, rather than speed and ease for the staff, you can make proper crockery and cutlery work.
The children collect their dinner on a plate, get handed a knife and fork and then sit down to eat. When they have eaten their dinner they clear away and then go and get their pudding. I don’t know about you but I was never allowed to have my pudding at the same time as my dinner! And of course what we found was that lots of children were eating their pudding first and then throwing away their dinner.
I made sure that I explained the rationale to everyone so that people understood why we were changing. It took some investment of time to get it organised and so myself and other members of senior staff were in the dining hall for several days to help out and see it smoothly initiated.
I can’t imagine serving lunch any other way now and, as a result, children eat more and have a pleasant experience at lunch-time.’
If Ms Atkins can do this within a large primary school, it should not be an issue for other schools.
Would we as adults eat our meals off these trays? No. Then we should provide children with appropriate crockery that respects them as individual human beings. Yes, schools are institutions, but, if we want to provide a holistic education for our children, then lunch-times do indeed matter for every child.
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