Education Quandary: 'My primary-school children get only 25 minutes for lunch and no time to play. What can I do?'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

This seems very short for a midday break. Most primary schools have at least 45 minutes or an hour, so their pupils get fresh air, exercise and lunch. Yet you say your school has no interest in changing its timetable.

Surely other parents are up in arms, too? Talk to as many of them as you can and see what their feelings are. If they haven't thought about it, explain why you think this break is too short, and that you are putting pressure on the school to change it.

Do your research. Last year, a study by Roehampton University showed that children are more likely to eat well at lunchtime when they are not rushed and can talk with friends. The Education Secretary wants pupils to eat off china plates to enjoy the experience of proper eating, and studies show that when children are active at lunchtime, afternoon lessons go better.

Talk to your Parent Teacher Association, the parent governors and the head. And, if necessary, take the issue up to the Diocesan Board of Education, as this is a voluntary-aided primary school. It doesn't sound like a policy framed with pupils' best interests in mind.

Readers' advice

Are you really sure? My son used to tell me the school gave them no time to eat and that the dinner ladies were "horrible" because they made pupils clear away their plates while they were still eating. When I went to protest, the school explained that there was plenty of time for lunch, but that my son was always talking too much and had never finished in time. As he got older, and understood that he had to get on and eat, the problems sorted themselves out.

Marie Elstein, Warwick

We lived in France for three years where school lunch was a leisurely break in the middle of the day. My children ate steamed fish, creamed leeks and cabbage, and seemed to enjoy it all. Now they only want packed lunches with crisps and chocolate bars like their friends. They bolt this down and rush out to play.

Virginia Bentham, Northamptonshire

I got up a petition about the dangerous parking outside my children's school. The governors were not interested, but I was too angry to let it go. It was uphill for a long time, and nasty things were said, but after that the momentum began to swing my way. It's never easy to be ahead of the crowd, but you must take action and get other parents to help you.

Mim Wright, London SE13

Next Week's Quandary

Our teenage children have been taking in a lot of the kind of smutty and vulgar radio and television programmes that have recently been in the news. My wife and I have long been worried about the harmful effect that it might have on them, although psychologist friends of ours tell us that family values are always stronger than outside influences. Is there any reliable research on this? And should we be worried about it?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@ btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com where they can be searched by topic.

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