If you have children of your own, or work in a school then you’ll probably already know this. For the rest of you, cast your mind back to school. Specifically cast your mind back to dinner time.
I used to eat sandwiches at dinner time in secondary school, either in my form room or stood outside in the cold playground. My memories of actual school dinners are from primary school, way back in the 80s; we’d line up outside the hall waiting to go in, looking at the dinner board to see what today’s food would be. This was traditional school dinner, the type served by stern looking women from big wheely contraptions made out of stainless steel. You got a plate, it was filled with some sort of cheap tubular meat, a blob of mash, some things that were once peas and off you went for the gravy. No turkey twizzlers or chips here.
And you had to eat it all before being allowed to leave. And don’t talk too much, it’s eating time, not talking time. And definitely no taking your food outside.
Fast forward to the present day. At the designated feeding time, our students are released and they have quite a large number of options. There is a “fast food” canteen where they can buy a slice of pizza to chew on while running around the playground, or they can buy a tub of pasta to spill on the stairs inside the school. For students with a more leisurely attitude to life they can go into the canteen and get real food, or a sandwich, or some more of the pasta-in-a-tub. Our year 11s have their own social area that has its own mini canteen, so they don’t need to queue up with the little kids. And yes, there’s a bunch of students who would rather waste their money on a box of jaffa cakes from Tesco each day rather than a real dinner (but I used to do that too, and I seem to have turned out quite well).
And the real food is actually recognisable. Those of you who go to a canteen that caters for adults are eating the same sort of food. We’re not talking five star restaurant food here, but it looks, smells and tastes quite nice. The sandwiches look like something you could buy from Tesco and are fresh every day.
It’s really quite pleasant, even the mad kids seem to calm down a bit at dinner time. I guess it’s hard to cause havoc when you’re eating. I also suspect that for many of our kids, it’s the only decent meal they get each day, such is the home life of some of our students.
Dinner time is also a reasonably orderly affair – as orderly as getting 1500+ students fed can be. They know to line up tidily, there’s no unnecessary shoving or pushing, nobody queue jumps and everyone is free to sit and eat without being distracted.
The main difference though is that it’s a more relaxed atmosphere. Kids do actually like to sit in little groups and talk about stuff while eating. They save the running about and shouting till after their stomachs are full. There is a definite difference between morning registration and afternoon registration, but that’s the topic of a future post.