Behaviour Support for Schools
Beacon School Support
Behaviour Support for Schools

Want every pupil in your school to have fantastic lunchtimes?

...especially those who find it hardest to mange during this chaotic part of the day? Such as those with additional needs such as autism or ADHD?

Let me show you how!

Why some children can get into trouble at lunchtimes

Do you find the same kids get into trouble at lunchtimes, day after day? Time consuming, isn't it?

What's more, the majority of schools deploy their least qualified members of staff to supervise this most hectic time of day.

The playground at lunchtime can be a pretty scary and overwhelming place.

There are a lot of children. A lot of noise. A lot of movement. And sometimes, not a lot of structure. Add in the fact that some pupils view 'free time' as 'free to do whatever you like time!' And you have a recipe for chaos and stress.

The fact is: some children are simply not equipped to cope with 'unstructured times'. Pupils with additional needs such as Autism or ADHD can really struggle with lunchtimes.

Melt downs or poor behaviours are commonly triggered by changes in routine, less familiar adults, and sensory sensitivities such as powerful food smells or misophonia (hatred of other people eating loudly). By the way: who doesn't hate that?!

(By the way, if you want to improve the dining room experience for all of your students, you should read our article 'How to create a happier dining room').

But, what else can be done to support pupils with ASD to have happier, calmer, more successful lunchtimes, both in the dining room and outside on the playground?


For children with additional needs, the trick is reducing anxiety.

Try these three simple ideas:

  • chunk their time out on the playground, so they are never left out enduring unmediated social time for too long. Try 20 minutes outside play, 20 minutes eating time (maybe in a quieter area of the dining room), and 20 minutes indoor play. Make a personalised visual timetable to back up this information.
  • give them access to a key adult, lunchtime club or sensory room they can go to if they feel overwhelmed. Create a space that children can be directed to, or chose to go to if it's all getting a bit too much. Make sure the pupil knows who their key adult is that day (if it can't always be the same member of staff), and add their photo to the child's personalised timetable.
  • practise social stories / comic strip conversations about how to join in games / lunchtime routines. Pupils with ASD may need to be explicitly taught social interactions such as how to ask to join in a game, what to do if other pupils say no, the importance of following rules, what to do when someone wants to leave or change the game.

Next steps

If you've found this article useful, and you're ready to continue moving lunchtimes forwards for the benefit of everyone in your school, we've got something just for you: The Lunchtime Masterplan.

It's our comprehensive, easy to use system for assessing your provision, plus the top quick fixes that outstanding schools exploit to ensure that pupils don't just survive, but thrive, at lunchtimes.

Staff meeting activity

This activity will take about 15 minutes and will encourage all staff to think about how they can improve lunchtimes for pupils with additional needs such as ASD or ADHD.

You will need:

  • Access to interactive whiteboard to show this month's video clip
  • Flipchart
  • Pens and paper for recording ideas


Watch this month's clip 'Want every child to have a successful lunchtime experience?' (you can see it at the top of this page)

Ask staff to work in pairs or small groups.

Give 3 minutes for them to identify and list pupils that struggle at lunchtimes. For example, the ones who regularly get told off by the lunchtime supervisors, or whose behaviour tends to be worse in the afternoons.

Now, give 6 minutes for staff to problem solve ideas for how those pupils could be further supported. What could be done differently in school to help these children so that they don't keep failing at lunchtime?

Remind staff that if the adults keep doing the same, they will keep getting the same. (To quote Henry Ford, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you alway's got.")

Therefore, it's useful to think ahead as to what changes the adults can make to the environment or staffing to see how this impacts on behaviour at lunchtimes.

Ask for feedback from each group and write it up on the flip chart - display for a week so that everyone reads and remembers the shared ideas.

Last 3 minutes, prioritise three things that could be changed and identify who will be responsible for making those changes and by when. Who else can support?

Implement changes as quickly as possible, whilst they are still fresh in people's minds. Feedback in the next meeting anything that is making a positive difference to your lunchtime provision.

Finally, signpost staff to the free resources section of our website, where they can watch videos and learn more tips and tricks for positively managing children's behaviour.

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