Dinner-party etiquette is just one of the courses that private schools are flagging up to tempt parents. Adi Bloom reports
An appreciation of fine food and wines is often overlooked in a child's education. The epicurean tends to be disregarded in favour of more traditional, academic concerns. But a number of private girls' schools are now offering a qualification that will equip pupils with the skills necessary to cater for those unexpected occasions when a diplomat drops round for dinner.
The 10th edition of the Independent Schools Guide, published this month by educational consultants Gabbitas, provides details of more than 2,000 fee-charging schools around the country.
As well as classifying schools by location, religious affiliation and gender, the guide also outlines extra-curricular activities on offer.
Faced with the challenge of making their school stand out from the Georgian-built, sports field-endowed masses, all promising individual attention and personal enhancement, many schools have chosen to highlight a range of unexpected features.
So girls' schools Downe House, in Berkshire, and Westonbirt, in Gloucestershire, advise concerned society parents that their daughters will have the opportunity to qualify for a food-and-wine certificate.
The five-term course includes a food hygiene certificate, as well as lessons in jointing a chicken, mixing sauce and appreciating fine wines.
The aim is for graduates to be able to cater for a gourmet dinner party.
At Westonbirt, almost all sixth-formers take the course. Debbie Young, school spokeswoman, said: "These sorts of skills will always stand pupils in good stead. They are useful socially and look good on the CV."
"And they will also help them to find their way around a menu, and feel confident in a restaurant setting.
"It's a lovely, creative way of escaping from academic work. And it will help the girls to fend for themselves at university, as well."
But for many pupils faced with three years of impoverished student life, a career as a society hostess seems a long way off.
Suzie Drewett, 18, a Westonbirt sixth-former, said: "I can definitely tell the difference between a good wine and a pound;2.99 bottle now. But I'm skint, so I'll still end up going for the cheap one.
"And I haven't really thought about giving dinner parties. But my beans-on-toast will definitely taste better than other students'
Dick Davison, joint director of the Independent Schools Council information service, remains sceptical as to whether courses in dinner party etiquette will provide lure for prospective pupils.
"It's hard to imagine that food and wine would be a selling point, or even a deal-clincher," he said. "But schools tend to offer what pupils and families want. They know their client le fairly well."