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Feeding hungry minds

MUSIC might be the food of love, but school dinners now offer a taste of basic skills - at least in Clacton-on-Sea.

Staff at Colbayns High School have cooked up a scheme to boost both pupils' basic skills and parental involvement in their children's schooling.

Families from the Essex resort are to be encouraged to attend a weekly supper club, where literacy and numeracy will be served along with toad-in-the-hole.

Nick Pavitt, the head, says: "This is a fairly deprived area, and on the whole it's hard to get parents in. We thought, if we were parents, what would bring us to school on an evening? There's only one answer - food."

School dinners as a rival to a takeaway pizza devoured in front of EastEnders might seem a tall order, but Mr Pavitt insists: "Our meals are highly regarded. "

Apparently Colbayns' cafeteria is "just as smart as any McDonald's" and is staffed by outside caterers wearing "Wimpy-style uniforms". Sample menus could include roast lamb, spicy chicken curry with Black Forest gateau for dessert, and toad-in-the-hole, of course, all washed down with soft drinks.

Parents hoping for something stronger to lubricate their literacy skills will be disappointed: alcohol is out. "It may be the evening, but this is still a school," Mr Pavitt says.

The supper club is one of 15 "innovative" schemes announced today by the Basic Skills Agency to promote better skills at secondary school level.

Others include a roving literacy bus to tackle rural deprivation in Somerset and a business mentoring scheme in Basildon.

Alan Wells, the agency's director, said: "These demonstration schemes don't cost much and, if successful, they save lots of money later in the system.

"We're quite prepared for some of them to fail. It's just as important to learn what doesn't work as what does."

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