Stay on site and have time for lunch….

The issue of enough time for lunch is making headlines today – after a new poll of parents put so-called ‘stay on site’ policies back into the spotlight.

Part of research for National School Meals Week, the poll found that 73% of parents voting supported the idea that secondary school pupils (up to Year 11) should have to stay in school at lunchtime, rather than going out.

Listen to our Chief Executive, Judy Hargadon, being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning about stay on site and why – when used together with good food in schools – it’s so important for encouraging children to eat a better lunch during the school day. You can also read more of what Judy says about LACA‘s findings here.

If your school has a stay on site policy or is thinking about introducing one, it’s particularly important that you’ve thought about how much time you’re giving pupils for getting and eating their lunch, and about making sure you’ve got the right systems in place so that they’re not spending most of their lunchtime stuck in a queue then rushing their food.

Our chairman, Rob Rees, wrote about stay on site for us back in 2010, in a debate for the Times Public Sector. I thought Time for Lunch Month might be a great time to look back on what he said:

“Asserting your independence is a natural part of growing up – but that’s no excuse for adults refusing to take responsibility for what children and young people eat.

We don’t ask children which textbook they would like to use for GCSE maths, if they’d like 90 minutes of P.E on the curriculum at Key Stage 3 or if they’d like to pick up the litter they’ve dropped in the playground.

We tell them these things because they are good for them. People with more life experience and information have weighed up the pros and cons and recommended the best textbook to deliver the syllabus; the benefits of physical exercise and fitness; the need to respect a shared space. There are times when adults really do know best.

And I believe the best thing for young people is if their school makes them stay on site at lunchtime.

When we published England’s first ever junk food league table back in 2008, the temptation facing secondary school children at lunchtime was clear.

With around 23 junk food outlets for every secondary school, was it any wonder that – given the chance – pupils were voting with their feet for what they saw as an easy way to save a few pence, get some quick calories and assert their independence?

Making sure young people eat a healthier lunch at school should be a no-brainer – if only to help them fulfil their potential. Research shows that when young people eat a good lunch in a pleasant environment, they are more focused and ‘on-task’ in their afternoon lessons.

That’s why we’ve consistently called for more schools to introduce a stay on site policy; something 90 per cent of parents say they support.

It’s not just about serving more of the well-balanced school lunches now on offer in canteens across England. Many schools tell us stay on site has improved punctuality for the afternoon session. Teachers and lunchtime supervisors can focus on behaviour within school rather than out in the community. Some schools find it helps to ease tensions with nearby residents and reduces the number of complaints about litter dropped by pupils.

Take Queen Katherine School in Kendal. After introducing stay on site as part of a package of measures to improve school lunch numbers, the school did report an increase. Time spent clearing litter off-site reduced and the school made an agreement with nearby food suppliers so students weren’t served during school hours. Pupils used to rate school food as one of the three things they least liked about their school. Now it’s among their favourites.

Head teachers tell us the key is involving the whole community. Talk to staff, parents, students, local businesses and residents. Listen to their concerns and above all make the canteen a place where students want to be – the environment in which they eat is more important to them than the food itself.

Is it challenging to introduce? Absolutely. Will the kids moan? Sure, at first. Does it work when it’s done well? Yes.”

We’ll be blogging lots more about all of these issues during Time for Lunch Month. Don’t forget to share your views on how much time children need for lunch at school in our quick survey.

Claire’s our Media and Communications Manager. Email Claire

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