Leader: Dinner halls should be fit for purpose

Artist's impression of the new dining room at Eastcraigs primary school. Picture: Contributed
Artist's impression of the new dining room at Eastcraigs primary school. Picture: Contributed
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Pupils, parents and staff alike have good reason to cheer the news that school premises in Edinburgh will be extended to create fit-for-purpose traditional dinner halls.

A nostalgic over-indulgence? That may be the reaction of some in the city. But how school meals are served – and the arrangements for pupils to enjoy them – are as important as freshly prepared and nutritious food.

The orthodoxy until now has been that dinner halls aren’t really needed – and that staff could save space and money by using gym halls and staggering meal times to cope.

It sounds straightforward in theory – until you face the practical problems of rota organisation, queuing and shifting furniture back and forth every day. It can be a military operation.

The cost in terms of staff time soon mounts. And the delay and upheaval involved in such arrangements works to encourage pupils to skip the school meal and make other arrangements.

Under new plans, new dining hall provision is proposed at four Edinburgh primary schools – Cramond, East Craigs, Towerbank and Sciennes – allowing pupils to sit safely together during meal times.

All four are currently coping with the lack of space by staggering meal times for each year group. But under the new proposals, Cramond and East Craigs will get new gym halls, while Towerbank and Sciennes will see extensions put in place to expand their current dining halls.

Figures for the first three months of the year showed that the average free school meal take-up in Edinburgh for all P1 to P3s was 70.3 per cent. Hopefully the new arrangements should result in a higher rate of take-up.

Doing things together should also help to build the esprit de corps of a school as well as enhancing the lunchtime experience.