We struggle to control the kids at a lunchtime without additional staffing resource. Help!

One conversation we have regularly with schools is the problem is they have ‘controlling’ behaviour at lunchtimes when there are fewer staff available to support the pupils. There is actually no legal requirement for staff : pupil ratios at lunchtimes but Headteachers must show they have completed a risk assessment for their setting and are advised by unions to follow Local Authority guidelines. These state that a ratio of 1:30 for infants and 1:75 for juniors should be in place. Provision must be made for staff absence and what happens when a lunchtime supervisor has to leave the playground to deal with an injury?

In my last school that would mean five members of staff for 180 children. Great, but we had two playgrounds and the lunch hall to look after and split lunchtimes. We were constantly juggling and assessing the situation and the Head or a member of SLT were always outside as well. 


So, why do we think we need more staff? What problems are the schools dealing with?

  • large open spaces. Children just want to run to let off steam. They want to move after being sat around in a classroom for possibly two hours without getting up out of their chair.
  • a mix of ages on the playground. In a Primary School you have 4 year olds up to 11 year olds mixing together. They are physically very different sizes and have very different interests. This can be a dangerous mix if they are not supported. You wouldn’t go and cycle a bike on the middle lane of the M5 so why would you let a 4 year old skip in the middle of an 11 year old football match?
  • a mix of interests. Some children are very physical, some are quiet.  Some like football, some like skipping. Different groups of friends just want to be together and away from other groups. 
  • limited space. Football can take over a large area but may only occupy 20 to 30 pupils out of your 180. Where do the rest go? We all know from personal experience that overcrowding is stressful.
  • lack of resources. PTA fundraising, Sainsbury’s vouchers and very limited school budgets are spent on buying small play equipment. This then lasts a month at best before it breaks or get used inappropriately and is taken away as it is seen as dangerous.
  • playground monitors. You have monitors to look after the equipment others play but without proper training they get bored easily and they lose interest. They may be off sick and you have no one to replace them. Monitors also need constant organisation and support from adults and your teachers have enough to do without this extra work.
  • lack of skills. Children need to be taught how to play. They don’t know how to play together without resources and adult support is needed, particularly in Key Stage One. 
  • boredom. Children regularly need stimulation and direction. Given the freedom of a larger space and an hour to fill they may well get bored and that is when they ‘misbehave’.
  • injury. Playtimes are physical and children are more likely to hurt themselves running around than sitting in a Maths lesson. First-aid takes adults away from the playground and pupil supervision so the 4 adults you had outside for your 150 children then becomes 3. That is 50 children each to keep an eye on!


Although more staff would certainly make life easier at lunchtimes it is not a cheap solution. School budgets are shrinking year on year. A quick chat with friends recently told me that their average class size is now 34 to 35 pupils in Key Stage Two, far from ideal. There is no money to support children with quite complex additional needs. Buildings are falling apart and there is no money for repairs. An extra ‘dinner lady’ is not a priority.

So again, teachers must be inventive with their limited resources and look elsewhere for a solution.

  • zones. A very simple solution to the problem of children mixing together and clashing as they have different physical abilities and interests. Split the area up into zones and keep the activities separate. Football is kept away from skipping and potentially the smaller Key Stage One children can be kept away from the larger Key Stage Twos. Of course there should be flexibility and friends should be allowed to meet but an assessment needs to be made on the safety of all pupils on your playground.
  • well trained and supported play and sports leaders. If we are asking children to take on roles of responsibility and to help adults on the playground then they must be fully trained. Regular reviews should be carried out and concerns from the leaders dealt with. Other pupils should recognise the role and respect the young leaders. 
  • music. A speaker on the playground playing different styles of music is a cheap way of occupying a lot of children. They love to move, sing and perform. Just be careful about licensing.  
  • staging. Put up a decking area with arch way for curtains in front and watch the creativity and self-esteem of your less physical children rocket! Outdoor stages are multi functional and can be fairly cheap to put up. 
  • playground games. I have heard of school who spend their Autumn Term PE lessons teaching children traditional playground games.  Each year group is taught a game or two and then they are encouraged to share them with others on the playground. There may be some resourcing costs but these are minimal and every child knows the purpose and rules of the game. There are fewer disagreements and the children have a bank of games they can dip into if they are ever bored or stuck for something to do.
  • large play equipment. Children love to climb and move in different ways. Large play equipment is a very popular choice for playgrounds but three are draw backs. We have separate posts and videos about this so take a look.

What is really needed is focused activities that are accessible to all and require minimal preparation and resourcing. How about a package that provides these as well as fully comprehensive training for the Sports Leaders, not only on the activities, but also on what leadership is and how they should carry out the role?

Inspired Playgrounds provides these activities, Leadership training and an awful lot more.


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