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You are how you eat

Fine dining has found its way back on to the curriculum in primary schools on opposite sides of the country.

A pilot project in East Ayrshire is highlighting the benefits of table manners and family meals, and six primaries are using older children to act as "parents" to younger diners at lunchtime. Meanwhile, at Campie Primary, Musselburgh, dining room supervisors award points and stickers to pupils who don't talk with their mouths full.

Both schemes, developed independently of each other but bearing strong similarities, come under the Scottish Executive's Hungry for Success banner.

A narrower choice than previously of good food is served on crockery and pupils use metal cutlery which they lay out themselves.

Christine Wilson, headteacher at Muirkirk Primary, which was chosen to spearhead the experiment, said: "How the children eat at lunchtime affects the whole school. They're more relaxed, more ready to learn, they have better manners, they are more responsible and they socialise properly."

Around 80 of Muirkirk's youngsters now sit sedately, 12 of mixed ages to a table, with two "parents" from the most senior class monitoring the mealtime.

"There's a fine line we're treading," said Mrs Wilson. "We don't want to be seen to be passing judgment on parents and how they do things at home. But we are saying clearly that our school values good manners and sociability and we will instil that in our pupils."

On the east coast, Campie Primary decided to improve dining manners for its stage 2 accreditation under the Hungry for Success scheme. "The head and I had been talking about it for some time while doing duty in the dining room. We saw children who couldn't use a knife and fork, picked food up with their fingers, and stabbed at it with a fork," said Irene Baillie, a principal teacher.

The initiative targeted the P5 classes first, doing text-related classwork and drawing up a list of "dos and don'ts" on how to eat properly.

"They have been practising with me, using knives and forks, setting the table, and continuing it as part of their homework. Nearer Christmas, the ones who have done all these bits of work and had the chance to practise them, will be invited to lunch with me in the dining room," said Mrs Baillie.

Golden rules on fine dining have been instituted in the dining hall, with all pupils encouraged to converse politely with the person on either side of them and the three opposite, rather than shouting at the person at the other end of the table.

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