Ways to make sure infant free school meals serves up value for money. Part 4 of 4 – Words by Paul Aagaard.


Readiness for learning will improve if behaviour polices are consistently applied at lunchtime.

My final blog in this four part series on how to make UIFSM value for money, is about how Midday Supervisors engage with the children and how they manage behaviour at lunchtime. What they say and how they say it is a key factor in whether or not children will eat their dinner. If it’s not done right all the solutions I proposed in my earlier blogs on getting the dining room right,engaging with parents and the relationship with caterers just won’t work properly.

Behaviour at lunchtime

The problem The solution
The ethos and values of a school are easy to evidence in the classroom but even if their Ofsted rating for behaviour is outstanding it often all goes a bit pear-shaped at lunchtime. There are two key problems here which need to be addressed.

  1. Midday Supervisors
    Whenever I speak to school councillors they usually say that Midday Supervisors (MSAs) are kind and lovely. However, when you dig a bit deeper they will say their problems aren’t sorted out at lunchtime. This is because MSAs aren’t trained teachers and struggle sometimes to deal with poor behaviour. As a result, they often end up using inappropriate language such as “come on, hurry up finish your dinner” or, if the child answers back, replying with “how dare you argue with me” will put most children off eating their dinner. Interestingly even Teaching Assistants (TAs) who often work as MSAs at lunchtime have the same problem. How the children treat them in the classroom is often very different to how they treat them at lunchtime.
  2. Behaviour policy
    Many schools I visit have behaviour policies which work well in the classroom but not at lunchtime. Children will often complain that they have been too harshly dealt with by MSAs/TAs or those who were really causing problems got off too lightly. I was running some MSA trainingat a school in Herts recently. When I asked the MSAs about the excellent set of “rules in class and rules out of class” in their behaviour policy (written by KS2pupils), they were not aware of them. Once children know the MSAs don’t know school rules they can play one off against the other. This then leads to very unkind and disrespectful comments like “you’re just a dinner lady, you can’t tell me what to do.” If lunchtime starts to feel a little hostile and unfriendly children are less likely to eat their dinner and they definitely won’t be ready for learning in the afternoon either – one of the key benefits of the UIFSM policy.
Here are my evidence based solutions to these two problems.

  1. Midday Supervisor training
    MSAs need training on how to manage challenging behaviour and assert authority. They need to understand that a focus on what you want a child to do rather than what you don’t want them to do is much more effective. So if a child is shouting the response shouldn’t be “will you stop shouting”, it should be something like “I need you to listen to me”.Once MSAs start talking to children in this way it becomes much easier for them to engage positively with children. I observed one young boy, in tears, saying he didn’t want to eat his shepherd’s pie because the potato topping was burnt. One MSA calmly talked to the boy and said “don’t worry I can make this pie look lovely”. She then simply removed the burnt topping to reveal the white potato underneath. Because the MSA had listened to the boy and then solved his problem he happily started eating it. This is a simple example but if this situation hadn’t been resolved the child wouldn’t have eaten his dinner and gone back into class miserable and not ready to learn.

    The other reason for investing in MSA training is to give them a voice and make them feel valued. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, by MSAs that school leaders don’t support them and don’t listen to what they have to say.

    And when you ask MSAs what they want from school leaders and how the relationship can be improved the answers are clear, constructive and very easy to implement. “We want a child wellbeing book” said one MSA in a training session I ran in a Herts school. “We want teachers to let us know which children in their class are being challenging so we can keep an eye on them at lunchtime”. It’s a combination of giving MSAs a voice as well teaching them about how to promote positive behaviour that makes the training outcomes sustainable. As one MSA from Croydon wrote in her written evaluation of my training: “[I was] made to feel important and heard”.

  2. Lunchtime charter
    Here’s how to make sure the behaviour policy is effective and consistently implemented at lunchtime.

    • Invite MSAs to work with school council and create a lunchtime charter identifying rules they are happy to follow.
    • Prominently display the charter in the dining room and playground.
    • Ask MSAs to wear laminated cards on lanyards summarising the rewards for good behaviour, all the agreed lunchtime rules and consequences for bad behaviour.

    So how will this help with UIFSM? The lunchtime charter will include very specific rules that relate to eating and socialising. Here’s two which are currently being used by a Kent school.

    We want our dining hall to be like a restaurant where we talk to our friends and wait for them to finish eating.

    We learn to use a knife and fork properly and talk to each other politely and kindly.