Galilee is a wonderful school! The children are happy, cooperative and keen to learn. The support staff are dedicated to working with teachers and children to develop knowledge and skills at each child’s point of need; and the teachers are a collaborative, high-achieving group who strive continually to bring about the best outcomes for every child in the school. During class, the children are safe and the learning spaces are well-resourced and spacious.
But what about break times? It is clear that at Galilee, we have limited space for our growing number of students, and this has been an issue of concern for a number of years. In Term 4 of 2018, the school held a parent forum at which strengths and areas for development for the school were raised and discussed by parents. It was a wonderful opportunity for the parents of the school to contribute ideas for school improvement. The limited space available for children during breaks was one of the issues discussed and a number of ideas were presented to help with this problem.
Of course, staff had also been considering ways of improving the break-time situation, and it is not surprising that the suggestions made by parents aligned with those made by staff. After all, we are all here for the same purpose: safety, happiness and best outcomes for our children!
Some of the ideas discussed by both parents and staff included:
- Introduce activity clubs during breaks
- Open more play spaces/areas for the children
- Reduce the length of the longer break
- Stagger play breaks (have breaks for junior children at different times from senior children).
Despite the necessity for teachers to be rostered on a greater number of break-time duties each week, at the beginning of 2019 we initiated the first three of the suggestions: We now have five play spaces available during each break – the basketball court, the grassed area and playground, the hall, the library and Learning Street. As well as these, we have also a ‘Safe Space’ where children can retreat to relax in a quiet, protected space. This has meant that we now have twelve staff on duty during each break, rather than eight, but the feedback from children and staff has been very positive.
As well as this, we have lunchtime clubs operating daily, including an Art Club, robotics, sports, chess, drama and Choir. These clubs are becoming increasingly popular with children from across the school, and have helped to alleviate congestion on the playground.
Also, this year we have changed our break times from one thirty-minute break and one fifty-minute break to two forty-minute breaks. As many of the injuries and incidents between children were occurring in the last ten minutes of the longer break, this change has had a significant impact.
The final suggestion made by both parents and staff alike was the idea of staggered breaks to alleviate congestion in the playground. This suggestion was not as straightforward to implement, so it was decided that a trial should take place through which we could discover the pros and cons of such an arrangement. The trial took place on Monday, April 1. We deliberately chose a day upon which specialist classes were not running and upon which there were no whole-school events scheduled, as this was the simplest timetable to adjust. Obviously, if staggered breaks were to be implemented throughout the week, then specialists, incursions, whole-school events such as masses and special days would need to be considered. Staggered breaks meant that only three areas could be opened, as staffing was limited.
Following the trial, feedback from both the children and staff was overwhelmingly unfavourable. The Staff held a meeting and all Student SRC members collated feedback from their classes and included the following:
Pros (staff) - Less congestion with P-2 (though not with 3-6); less children on computers in the library; children playing with others in similar class levels.
Pros (students) - Easier to get a ball; get space from friends, buddies or siblings in younger grades who are a bit clingy; could go on either court.
Cons (staff) - Just as many, or more, head injuries; disruption to learning caused by extra bells and children playing outside during learning times, as well as shortened blocks not allowing for solid learning in the morning; transitions between breaks caused congestion on the playground and the stairs; older students became disengaged in the afternoon block; additional duties meant less collaborative time spent with other staff.
Cons (students) - couldn’t be with their buddies/siblings; not as many play areas to choose from; the afternoons were long for 3-6s and the morning seemed too short; a longer wait for the younger ones to eat; older children were not there to hand out balls/equipment.
Staff have agreed unanimously that staggering breaks is not an effective option in dealing with congestion on the playground, but that the implementation of forty-minute breaks, activity clubs and the addition of two play areas daily have contributed to the minimisation of injuries and incidents between students, which were the main issues of concern during breaks.
Congratulations and thank you to all students, parents and staff who participated in the process. We are pleased that we were able to investigate suggested options and to have demonstrated that three of the four options have been both viable and successful in making the most of our play spaces during breaks.
Principal of Galilee