Persuading youngsters to adopt a healthy lifestyle could not be more crucial than in Glasgow, where the gap in life expectancy between the poorest and most affluent areas is a staggering 28 years. Shawlands Academy, a 1,250-pupil school serving some of the city's most deprived wards, has come up with a novel answer to the problem.
The school, one of the most ethnically diverse in Scotland with pupils speaking 47 languages at home, has turned its youngsters on to healthy eating by awarding them points according to their choice of school dinner. The healthier the option, the more points they get, so a mixed nutritional meal including fruits and yoghurt beside the main dish will get them the maximum.
At the end of term, the points are added up and earn pupils a prize – a new iPod or camera for those who have totted up the most. As one youngster, Niamh Murray-Sheridan, put it: "In the past, people went outside [school] to eat but now they are staying in and eating more healthily."
The points rewards system is just one of several initiatives that led to Shawlands receiving the Sustainable School of the Year award at last night's annual Teaching Awards ceremony at the London Palladium. Shawlands has also set up an eco club, members of which ensure rubbish is collected for recycling every day. "We are the next generation of pollution fighters," said one pupil.
The club is also encouraging more youngsters to cycle to and from school – and has built a new bike shed in the school playground.
In addition, youngsters have created their own garden area – also in the school playground – with money from lottery funding. They have also played a role in the refurbishing Pollock Park, the city's largest open space, which is only a short distance from the school.
Park rangers said the area the pupils focussed on had been cut off from natural light by sprawling rhododendron bushes. The pupils cut the bushes back and now it is a pond-side habitat.
Shawlands has also developed partnerships with schools in South Africa, Sweden and Cyprus, with which it talks about efforts to improve their environments.
Last night was the tenth anniversary of the Teaching Awards – which were the brainchild of the Oscar-winning film director Lord Puttnam, who acted as an education adviser to the Government in former prime minister Tony Blair's first cabinet.
A former roadie for the pop band Catatonia was named the outstanding new teacher of the year. Natalie Richards, a drama teacher at Bishop Gore School in Sketty, Swansea, was described as a "fantastic mentor" to younger teachers and staff. Mrs Richards (pictured with award presenter Russell T Davies, the producer of Dr Who) is respected by pupils, one of whom nominated her for the award, for her belief that everyone has talents.
In her three years of teaching, Mrs Richards has already run school productions of Arabian Nights and The Crucible and has started a lunchtime talent club. As a fundraiser and runner she also ropes in pupils to train and compete with her in Sport Relief events.