One of the country's leading girls' schools has introduced a wine-tasting club for its sixth-formers in a bid to wean them off binge drinking.
Malvern St James School for Girls in Worcestershire is also setting up wine-tasting dinner parties with neighbouring boys' schools.
The new club, the brainchild of Rachel Huntley – who teaches critical thinking at the school – is one of the most popular out-of-hours activities for students.
They are eligible to join from the time they start in the sixth-form at 16. According to staff, it has become quite a selling point in encouraging girls to go on into the sixth-form.
Mrs Huntley said the wine-tasting sessions were an attempt to divert the teenage girls away from a drinking culture where the main aim is to become intoxicated over a short period of time.
Staff say it makes a refreshing change to the culture of the school disco where girls and boys line up to dance and ogle each other at specially arranged dances between local boarding schools.
"We want to introduce the girls and their friends to good wines and their complexity, and educate them to develop an interest in the making of the wines rather than them seeing wine as something that you knock back in the summer holidays without thinking," said Mrs Huntley.
Figures show that binge drinking is growing faster among young girls than boys, with the numbers admitting to taking part in it doubling in the past few years.
Mrs Huntley claims that – where girls routinely experience alcohol at an early age and with parental approval – binge drinking appears to be less prevalent.
"As an all-girls' school, we have recognised that our children are under enormous pressure to conform to a drinking culture which has huge adverse health and social effects," she said.
She added that the "refined social event" the girls experienced made binge drinking alcohol seem like the "poorer sister" to the "interesting and diverse cultural world of wine".
During the wine-tasting sessions the girls take notes and are encouraged to comment on bouquet, colour and taste. The wines are also accompanied by regional foods from the region.
"An evening on Spanish wines will be accompanied by tapas, or we might experiment with which wines go best with different foods," said Mrs Huntley.
The girls cook the food as part of their cookery course. The sessions can blend history, culture, chemistry, food technology and geography all into one lesson and, of course, wine tasting.
Then, as an added attraction, there are wine-tasting dinners organised with local boys' independent schools.
"Far better to enjoy a candlelit dinner with boys in the form of a quiz night blind wine-tasting than rely on the awful discos which are the standard diet in many schools," said Mrs Huntley.
Malvern St James school, which has 300 11 to 18-year-old pupils, features among the top 25 girls' schools in the country. It is illegal to sell alcohol to children under 18. However, it can be drunk in a supervised environment by 15 to 17-year-olds.
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