SILENCE IS GOLDEN: Wisbech head imposes quiet dinner time rule but not everyone agrees
A PRIMARY school head who insisted up to 120 children eat their lunch in silence or risk being punished has been accused of bullying and humiliating pupils.
Sylvia Stronach, head of Ramnoth Junior School, Wisbech, said the week long experiment had not been taken lightly but “the level of noise over the past few weeks has been horrendous”.
Miss Stronach said the noise levels had made the dining hall “an uncomfortable place to be both for children and adults.
“The acoustics of the dining room are not good and the cooks cannot hear what the children are asking for.”
However her policy has angered parent Nathan Smith, who is also a governor of another Wisbech school, who said the first he knew of the rule was when his children came home and told him.
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“They explained that it was sometimes very noisy but now they had to sit in silence or face a punishment involving doing lines, standing in the centre of the hall or holding a teacher’s or grown up’s hand.
“I personally felt that this seemed a little unfair as I see communal eating and discussion as a hugely important part of school life”.
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Mr Smith said both he and his wife encouraged their children to write letters to the head outlining their concerns but when nothing happened they turned to Facebook and found other children and parents with similar concerns.
Miss Stronach claimed, in a letter sent to parents on Friday that Facebook was discussing “misinformation” since the silence rule was only intended to last a week.
It followed a period when other methods of curtailing the noise had been tried including asking children to talk quietly and on occasions getting teachers to eat alongside the pupils.
She said if the noise level continues to be unacceptable “then we will have to go back to short periods of silence. This decision lies entirely with your children.”
She also denied that children were banned from clapping after birthday lunches and happy birthday had been sung.
“This is untrue. They are allowed to clap but they are not allowed to scream and do high pitched whistles.”
Mr Smith, however, is not satisfied and claims five unrelated children have confirmed that Miss Stronach held an assembly “and spent the majority of it shouting, reportedly only lowering her voice once”. He claimed children were berated –including for making spelling mistakes in their letters of complaint!
He said: “Frankly this attitude and treatment of the children struck me as the lowest form of aggression, bullying and humiliating the pupils who have dared to have a differing opinion. “
Mr Smith added: “The children should find the school to be a happy and harmonious place to learn and instead it appears that the whip is favoured over the carrot, figuratively speaking.
“In discussions with people it transpired that the issues had been on and off for some time with some children being made to leave their lunches and stand in the centre of the hall as punishment.
“Parents are understandably distressed that attitudes towards discipline that were thought to have been left in the seventies were alive and well in the school.”
Miss Stronach, meanwhile, added in her letter to parents, that she hoped the children “behave in an appropriate manner in the dining hall which makes it a pleasant time for all.”