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Creating an inclusive school dining room

Lunchtime is an important part of the school day, with the potential to impact pupil behaviour and their sense of well being immensely. Thus, providing a school dining environment that is pleasant and inclusive of all pupils can play a vital role in ensuring that the student population stays happy, calm and healthy.

What makes a good school dining experience?

We have blogged previously about the positive impact that a well-planned school dining room can have on the uptake of school meals; even more so following the introduction of free school meals for infants in 2014. In fact, your school dining room can also make an important contribution to your Ofsted inspection.

What’s more, our recent case study of the acoustic refurbishment at Booker Avenue Infant School highlighted the challenges of a hall that had poor acoustics and subsequently the positive solutions that were implemented to improve the children’s health and general well being, particularly for those children with Special Educational Needs (SEN). In addition to accommodating individual needs, lunchtime is a valuable social experience so it’s essential to create an inclusive environment where all pupils feel that they belong.

So what other factors contribute to an inclusive school dining room?

The dining environment Providing a place for every pupil to sit and eat their meal at a table, with their friends encourages school meal uptake, helping them to enjoy a healthy dinner rather than a packed lunch. It also gives pupils the chance to wind-down away from the classroom and socialise over a meal, an opportunity which they may not always get at home. Of course there is no one size fits all solution for school dining furniture so it’s vital to consider the needs of all by consulting with the children, Headteacher and catering staff.

Maximising space

Pupils and dining staff need to have enough space to move freely around the school dining room to comply with health and safety regulations but, with the added factor that most dining rooms are not big enough, it is essential that the right furniture is considered along with professional planning.Multi-purpose school dining furniture such as folding tables and benches don’t have to be boring or bland. The use of colours such as lime green, orange and other “foodie” colours means that maximum numbers can be achieved without compromising the aesthetics.Conversely large spaces can also be challenging, particularly where different age groups are dining together, including SEN pupils; again specialist planning can incorporate an inclusive facility which is harmonious and inspiring, especially with subtle “zones” that can be used flexibly and enable changes over the course of a year to achieve a fresh look. A new approach is to incorporate quiet areas such as special acoustic seating booths which double up as small group and one to one teaching spaces.

Working with a specialist

Working with a company that specialises in school dining environments will unify the project without the need to commission an interior designer, thereby making considerable cost savings.A specialist company can usually provide free design and consultation to bring together the whole environment with a focus on color schemes for walls and ceilings and the most appropriate furniture options suitable for the project. The design can also incorporate wall graphics and feature walls to inspire the children to want to use the dining room.

Acoustic design

We have discussed dining room acoustics in detail elsewhere on the Seatable blog but it should of course be included in this list also. Schools have a responsibility to reduce high levels of reverberation, which can make a room noisy and uncomfortable, in line with Building Regulations Part E4, ‘Building Bulletin 93 (BB93) Acoustic Design for Schools. As well as impacting upon behavior and causing discomfort for all pupils, especially those with SEN. Arecent report by the BBC has revealed that partially deaf children are being overlooked in many mainstream schools.In accordance with the Children’s and Families Act 2014, all schools are required to publish details of their SEN and disability provision, making an inclusive dining environment an essential part of attracting a diverse student population. What’s more, schools are able to access additional funding from the local authority to help them deliver support for high level needs, known as ‘Funding for Inclusion.’

A climate for learning

Research into how exposure to moderate levels of noise can have a negative effect on pupil’s speech, listening abilities and performance is increasing. It makes clear how all children are prone to disruptive behavior caused by a feeling of being bothered, especially those with language and impaired hearing (Klatte et al, 2013; Shield 2013). We also know that pupils cite noise as the key reason for not enjoying lunch time.

The Ofsted inspection framework focuses on pupil behavior as a key indicator for achieving learning outcomes. Therefore, Inspectors will assess behavior across the school day focusing on lost learning time caused by settling pupils down after transition at the start of lessons due to low level disruptive behavior of pupils (Ofsted 2014). A hectic dining hall will impact on pupil’s readiness for learning.

Clearly there are a multitude of factors that contribute to a positive dining experience in schools and help all children to flourish in a mainstream school setting. If you’re looking to improve your dining provision then the Seatable team are on hand to offer expert advice and help you design an environment that impacts positively on all pupils in your school.

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