Lunch breaks can be a source of conflict and behaviour problems, which often spill over and disrupt the classroom during the afternoon sessions. How effective are your routines and systems for a successful midday break, asks Dave Stott

Much time and effort is spent by schools on providing appropriate space, equipment and supervision for students at lunchtime. Timetables may be altered to accommodate a longer morning session, short lunch breaks and varied afternoon sessions. In spite of this, many students find it difficult to cope with the change from the structure of the classroom to the greater freedom, social interaction and changed supervision of the lunch break.

Invariably it is how the transition from classroom to breaktime is handled that sets the scene for a lively, enjoyable, social period of the school day which retains an appropriate structure with clear expectations and trained supervision. If students feel that once the bell has gone classroom expectations are over for the next 45 minutes or an hour, then acceptable models of behaviour are no longer the benchmark.

The transfer of authority from teachers to midday supervisors can also cause problems. Students may perceive teachers as being further up the hierarchy than midday supervisors, and there may be ineffective communication pathways between the two groups. This will encourage students to behave differently, with some testing routines and patience to the limit.

Clear and understood routines for the transition to and from the classroom, together with joint responsibility for implementation by all staff, are vital building blocks for trouble-free lunch breaks. The Practical Tips section below offers some pointers to use for evaluating lunchtime breaks at your school. It also aims to show how, through a proactive and consistent approach to managing the lunch break, you can reduce the number of incidents of poor student behaviour.

Practical Tips

Environment
A good starting point when evaluating the lunch break is to check out the physical environment. Collect evidence through visual observation, monitoring and recording incidents.

  1. How do students gain access to the outdoor spaces? Are there any hotspots in the building (doorways, stairwells, locked doors) where problems occur?
  2. How appropriate is the physical space (floor area) for the number of students using the playground, field etc?
  3. List the areas (according to observations and recorded incidents) that cause the most problems. Consider all areas: playground, field, toilets, dining room, corridors, classroom access, entrance/reception area.

Once the problem areas have been recognised, consider how changes may be made. These changes can include issues easily dealt with in school (by having extra staff on duty in key areas, staggering breaktimes and so on) but may also include issues that require outside help (provision of equipment, uneven surfaces, creation of quiet areas and so on).

Staffing
The environment is certainly a key aspect of calm lunch breaks. Staffing, however, is perhaps of even greater importance. Use the questions below to assess how effective your school’s staffing procedures are during lunch break.

  • How many members of staff are on duty inside and outside during lunch break?
  • What are the rules for lunch break? Are these rules taught by all staff and regularly referred to? Are they prominently displayed?
  • Have clear routines been established for leaving the classroom, entering the dining room, eating lunch, going outside etc?
  • Is there a reward and sanction system in place at lunch break? Does the system link into the classroom ‘rules, rewards, sanctions’ approach? Which members of staff implement the system (midday supervisors? Teachers only?)
  • Are there any organised activities taking place at lunch break?
  • What are the procedures for rain?
  • Do midday supervisors receive induction training? Behaviour management training? How often? Is the training effective? Are supervisors familiar with the school behaviour policy?

Use the checklist below during training sessions for your school’s midday supervisors, to assess the role they play in managing behaviour.

Lunchtime activity checklist
Rank the 12 activities listed below in order according to how often you perform them during lunch break, with 12 being the most often and 1 the least:

  • Stand in one place or one area of the playground
  • Walk around the school site
  • Remind pupils of and reinforce the rules and routines for lunch break
  • Sort out arguments, fights and other behaviour problems
  • Spend most of your time with one student or a small group of students
  • Talk to lots of students
  • Talk to and work in partnership with another adult
  • Organise and supervise play activities
  • Drink tea or coffee
  • Supervise the movement in and out of the building
  • Discuss individual students with teaching staff
  • Give out rewards and issue sanctions

Using the above indicators will give you a good and accurate baseline assessment of the physical space available, together with the roles teaching and non-teaching staff play during lunch breaks. Use this information to confirm the good practice already in place in your school, or to construct an action plan aimed at improving student behaviour and staff training.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in April 2010

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.