Hermitage Primary School

Before we made the dining room changes our main aim was to get children through as quickly as possible, get them served as quickly as possible and get them out as quickly as possible and it wasn’t working said the Headteacher, Elaine D’ Souza. Now children are asked to stay in the dining room for 20 minutes which means they eat slower, eat properly and as a result wastage has gone down hugely.

Football dominated in the playground before the changes were introduced and the large cohort of White British boys said the Headteacher used to run around, wind themselves up and fall out.

The school introduced a wide range of scrap materials into the playground - boxes, crates and pots and pans - and invited children to play with them in whatever way they wanted to. One day a box would be a box, the next day it would a spaceship. It’s totally up to them. said the Headteacher.

By creating a much more child initiated play environment, engagement improved, and playground incidents dramatically reduced by 70% - down from over 30 while slip incidents before the changes to less than 10 after the changes were introduced.

To improve SMSA engagement whole school behaviour scripts were developed. Supervisors now communicate with clarity said Parmjit Varaitch the Deputy Headteacher on how to de-escalate incidents, to praise good behaviour and if they need to, address poor behaviour.

The issues


SMSAs said children (before we made the lunchtime changes) were disrespectful and say things like you can’t tell me what to do you’re just a dinner lady. Children perceive (wrongly) that they can get away with this disrespectful attitude said one of the SMSAs. That’s because our school used to be very unclear and inconsistent about lunchtime rules.


Lunchtime was very rushed said Tracy Ritchie, the Pupil Wellbeing Officer who manages the SMSAs. It seemed like almost all the children were in the lunch hall at the same time and they were queuing constantly. They would be queuing outside the lunch hall, then in the lunch hall and it seemed bizarre that there was nothing better for them to do with their lunchtime than queue up.


Our SMSAs felt they were bouncers at a nightclub said Tracy Ritchie. Some of them just stood there and guarded their area without really moving. As an SMSA you come in, you do your two-hour shift and you go home again said the Headteacher, Elaine D’Souza. Often they don’t engage with the school and don’t buy into the school


Although the school has a Multi Use Games Area (MUGA), a large field and large playground, football seemed to dominate, and many children were running around not engaged in any games. We have got a high percentage of boys who run and run, wind themselves up and end up falling out so we used to have quite a lot of playground incidents said the Headteacher.

The solution


The school created a charter and developed whole school behaviour scripts to make sure all children were clear about behaviour expectations at lunchtime.

Lunchtime charter – The Deputy Headteacher, Parmjit Varaitch, worked with the Y3 children to develop a lunchtime charter based on the four principles within the schools’ caring code. Easy to understand lunchtime behaviours were identified for each principle. For example, one of the caring code principles always be kind and helpful means play with anyone who is on their own and wait for your friends to finish eating on the table and then leave together. School leaders met with SMSA and TAs to discuss the charter, so they could have their say too. All voices were held within the charter said Parmjit.

Whole school behaviour scripts – Behaviour scripts were agreed and used by all members of staff, so children hear the same messages both in the classroom and at lunchtime. For example, the agreed response to a child running is walk, thank you and not stop running.


Lunchtimes have been extended from one to two hours and a series of 20-minute sittings were introduced. During service, half of the dining hall is empty. This has significantly helped reduce noise levels and queuing. Although lunchtime was extended this didn’t affect curriculum time.

The new restaurant style dining room service has created a calm and relaxed environment, conducive to on task behaviour – i.e. socialising and eating. This is based on the following best practice principles.

  1. Introduction of six 20 -minute sittings giving most children the opportunity to stay in the hall during the next sitting if they need more time to eat.
  2. Children sit in friendship groups so everyone knows who they are sitting with.
  3. A seating plan with named tables (carrot and lettuce etc) which are always in the same place every day so children know where they are sitting.
  4. Children sit down when they first arrive in the dining hall and collect school dinners one table at a time to make sure no one queues for more than a few minutes.
  5. Children stay in the dining hall for 20 minutes before leaving the dining room to support slow eaters.
  6. Children are responsible for clearing up any food that drops on the floor and NOT the SMSAs.


SMSAs are primarily responsible for teaching children social skills and not cleaning tables. Three different strategies were used as part of this project to help SMSAs change their mindset from being cleaners to teachers of the social curriculum.

  1. Recipe for Change training – Positive behaviour training gave SMSAs the opportunity to have their say and be listened to. This helped them buy into the process said the Headteacher and recognise that their job is both a valuable and important way to teach our children social skills.
  2. No washing and wiping tables - The school has banned SMSAs from wiping tables during service. Now they must sit and talk to the children about their food and about what they are doing said the Headteacher.
  3. Rewards – SMSAs are asked to give out raffle tickets to children who are following the lunchtime charter behaviour expectations. Any child that gets one knows exactly why they have got it said the Headteacher. This reward programme helps SMSAs focus on the majority of children who are well behaved rather than the tiny minority who are poorly behaved.


The school introduced loose parts (scrap materials) and ran a positive risk-taking project to improve play value.

Loose parts – A wide variety of scrap materials have been introduced into the outside area including old pots and pans and a rope drum to create a mud kitchen. The children have ownership of the area. We haven’t told them what to do said the Headteacher. Sometimes a box will be box, sometimes it will be a spaceship. It’s totally up to them. It’s trying to develop their engagement in the outside area rather than us as adults saying here’s a lovely hop scotch, now you play hop scotch on it

Positive risk taking – Children were given access to some plastic piping and a tree. The children used chairs and lifted each other up to tie the pipe around the tree to make a swing. The children then took turns tugging at the rope, checking to see if it would come lose and experimented with the rope at different heights. The children then began to take turns on the swing. The most interesting bit. There hasn’t been a single accident. This proves as Roald Dahl said, the more risks you allow your children to make the better they learn to look after themselves.

The outcomes

Supervisor role and engagement

Supervisors now communicate with clarity said Parmjit Varaitch the Deputy Headteacher on how to de-escalate incidents, to praise good behaviour and, if they need to, address poor behaviour.

Supervisors are much more proactive and engage with the children said Tracey Ritchie, Pupil Wellbeing Officer. That’s because they feel listened to.

Lunchtime behaviour

I have had 11 white slips for the whole of this Summer term said Parmjit Varaitch. In the Spring term (before the changes were introduced) it was somewhere in the 40s and the Autumn term was somewhere in the 50s. Most of these white slips were for our lunchtimes so a huge change in behaviour.

Number of unstructed time white slip incidents

School Development Plan

One of the four areas in our School Development Plan has always been Character Development. Now we call it the Social Curriculum which is all about how children interact, how they play, how they self- regulate and how they initiate interactions with people. Elaine D’Souza, Headteacher

Midday Supervisor (SMSA) training feedback

Midday Supervisor training feedback with Excellent getting all the votesHow would you rate this training?

What aspect of the training was most useful to you?

Strategies to deal with behaviour.

New ideas. How to deal with behaviour more positively. Rewarding children using new ideas.

Being able to see things/issues from a different point of view and realising there were easy solutions to the issues.

Hearing everyone’s thoughts.

Ideas from everyone.

Lunchtime table sittings in groups.

It made me think about all the different aspects of lunchtime and ways in which things can be vastly improved for the kids.

Behaviour management/dealing with challenging children/issues relating to lunchtime.

We learnt a lot about lunchtime, playtime and how to play with children.

What aspect of the training was least useful?

No comments x 9

Midday supervisor confidenceHas the training made a difference to your confidence in dealing with lunchtime incidents?

Do you have any other comments?

Thank you for listening to our needs and trying to decipher them positively! Looking forward to trying out new ideas.

I found this training very interesting and learnt a lot on how I can change how I do things outside in the playground.

I am glad this will be an ongoing process rather than a one off. This will give us a chance to embed new techniques.

This was a great session and there were some great ideas. Thank you!

I think the training is very informative. I also think the strategies can work successfully.

Fantastic x 2

Pupil feedback on the dining room changes.

It’s better now because before when we used to queue up we had to get a cup and cutlery but now when you sit down you have already got a table where you have got all your cutlery and cups and now you have got more time.

It’s had a good impact because when we lined up we used to make a lot of noise but now we are quieter.

Its more controllable. We used to have lots of arguments.

You have to be polite and wait for the other people on your table to finish before you can go out and play.

You have to wait for other people and that improves our kindness and respect.

Waiting for people is good and I like it because you are showing respect to everyone.