Feel the dinner-lady love

Bee Wilson, writing in the Telegraph, talks about her experiences of a breakfast club at London primary and the wider role of dinner ladies in feeding children…

The benefits of a breakfast club are simple. A hungry child can’t concentrate on times tables. A well-fed one – just maybe – can. But the thing that strikes me most about the Keyworth club is the social aspect. Many of these children live in flats so tiny that school meals are the only chance they get to eat at a table. There’s a calm companionability in the room, as pupils aged four to 11 sit munching together, asking each other to pass the jam. I can see why McConnell talks about food as “an extension of love”.

With the school year starting up again soon, a lot of that love will be doled out across the country by dinner ladies, AKA “lunchtime supervisors”, whose role ranges from dealing with spillages to defusing food fights. Some fascinating research was published a couple of years ago by Jo Pike of the University of Hull, who spent three years observing dinner ladies in four primary schools in the north of England.

Pike found that the dinner ladies – who earned on average just £1,660 a year – saw their role as caring for the children. But these women had a very different view of “care” than the teachers. Their main aim was a maternal desire for “the bairns” not to go hungry. They didn’t mind so much about table manners or finishing everything on the plate. They just wanted the children to go home having had a decent hot meal.

The teachers that Pike interviewed, by contrast, saw the school lunch as a chance to prepare children for the future through healthy eating and cutlery skills. Teachers didn’t like the way the dinner ladies cut things up for the children or allowed them to eat with fingers. For the dinner ladies, learning to use a knife and fork was less important than the urgent matter of getting the children to eat. For the teachers, it was frustrating to see how year after year the children “just can’t eat their food properly”.

More at:  Feel the dinner-lady love

Are you aware of tension between teachers and dinner ladies (or men)? Is there a balance to be achieved between ensuring genuinely hungry children are fed and teaching about health and sustainable eating? Who should be taking the lead? Please tell us your thoughts and experiences in the comments or on twitter… 

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Categories: Health.


  1. educimprov

    SchoolsImprove always found them great at defusing probs and alerting you to poss issues. unsung heroines most of them

  2. MinoHedgehog

    SchoolsImprove what a sweet post! My dinner ladies were cheerful nuns, who however also expected us to sit straight and mind our manner

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