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Guest post: Family dining - a great way to help pupils integrate

Guest Post
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“Parkwood is a one-form primary school in the London Borough of Hackney, and as a small school we work hard to develop and nurture a community spirit. When giving tours to parents and visitors I describe the school as a ‘village school in London’.

However, it was felt though that lunchtimes didn’t quite fit in with the ethos of the school. The children would line up in classes, waiting at ‘the hatch’ to be given a tray of food, before seeking out their friends. Key stage 1 and 2 were segregated and children would often sit on single sex tables with their year group. In addition to this play was staggered, meaning children played for short periods, interrupted with lining up and then eating. Negative behaviour wasn’t an issue, but the atmosphere did not reflect that of other times of the day.

The school has an active school council and we used pupil voice to explore ways to improve the experience of lunchtimes. We surveyed the pupils (and staff) on their likes and dislikes about lunch focussing on bringing the school together as a community. I had read about schools who had adopted ‘family dining’ and felt we could take aspects of this and personalise it to Parkwood. We decided that reception should eat in a café-style setup, in their classroom, which meant that they could talk to one another. Previously some children become overwhelmed with the noise and space of the dining hall so this also allowed a more nurturing atmosphere. We then worked with the school council to develop a menu. This is now a regular item on the agenda and classes have the ability to review and update the menu termly.

We also wanted to reward children for demonstrating the school’s values. We developed a house system and combined this with family dining. All children now sit in mixed year groups, in their houses. Siblings are placed in the same house and have 30 minutes dining time, which gives them a chance to chat over a shared meal. At the end of the dining time the house which demonstrated the school’s values the most receive house points. The children then have an uninterrupted 30 minutes of play.

Finally – and this was the biggest challenge – we worked with year 6 children to act as heads of the tables, serving food to the other children. We gave them specific training on how to serve, although as the menu changed they had to develop and refine their serving techniques, such as knowing which utensil is best to serve jelly with! The new set-up was a major change for children and staff, but now, after a term and a half we feel that everyone fully understands their role.

It’s amazing to see the impact that family dining has had. Now, after the children have finished eating, they can be seen talking and enjoying their lunch experience. One day, while waiting for the points to be awarded, a year 1 child was seen to sat on the knee of a year 6 child waiting for points to be handed out. The children are working together and pupil surveys have shown that at least two thirds of children have made friends with children in other year groups.”

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