Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 01 Feb 2008

My twins only get half an hour for lunch. The school says itís for discipline reasons. What can we do?

Hillary's Advice

First of all tell yourselves that you are right to be worried. We donít like chickens being reared without being able to feed, breathe and stretch. Why is it ok for children? Lunch times are for unwinding, eating properly, socialising, going to clubs and getting fresh air. Yet, worryingly, 13 per cent of secondary schools now give pupils only half an hour for lunch, and more than half give pupils less than an hour. And this change is being sneaked in without consultation with either pupils or parents. Some schools say itís because they canít find lunchtime supervisors. More cite playground problems as the reason for the change.

Yet good discipline does not come from slamming the lid down on children and denying them time to be themselves. It comes from helping them develop respect for themselves and others, within a clear framework of expected behaviour, with quick and effective sanctions for those who spoil things for others. It isnít difficult to put in place. A mass of stuff has been written about how to do it, and good schools make it work every day.

But your twinsí school is telling its pupils is that they expect them to behave badly and that they are locking them up in their classrooms to prevent it. If pupils respond by acting even worse, who can blame them?

Find out what other parents and pupils think, ask for an appointment with the head and raise these issues. If he or she wonít even discuss them, think about whether you want your children to stay in that sort of school.