Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Fish oil scam

In a recent Doctor Who story aliens took over a school and fed chips fried in a special alien brain-improving oil to the kids. Students who performed poorly were taken out of class and eaten. This was fiction but not a million miles away from what actually happened in schools in Durham in 2006-7. In September 2006 all year 11 pupils at the county’s 36 comprehensive schools were offered omega-3 fish oil supplements. Dave Ford, the county’s chief schools inspector, said: “We are able to track pupils’ progress and we can measure whether their attainments are better than their predicted scores.”

Although the GCSE results were published last summer, the county has still to say whether the omega-3 supplement had any effect.

County councillor Michelle Hodgson: “Our evaluation of levels of take-up and perceptions of staff, pupils and parents will be made public once all of the relevant information from participating schools has been properly collated and analysed.”

She added: “As we have said previously it was never intended, and the county council never suggested, that it would use this initiative to draw conclusions about the effectiveness or otherwise of using fish oil to boost exam results.”


Take a look at Ben Goldacre's blog.

Dr Madeleine Portwood, senior educational psychologist at Durham county council, who ran the “trial”, says: “Previous trials have shown remarkable results and I am confident that we will see marked benefits in this one as well.”

In the Daily Mail article from September 5 2006 headlined “Fish oil study launched to improve GCSE grades“, Dave Ford, the council’s chief schools inspector, says: “We will be able to track pupils’ progress and measure whether their attainments are better than their predicted scores.”

Durham county council’s own press release from the beginning of the “trial” reads: “Education chiefs in County Durham are to mount a unique back-to-school initiative today which they believe could result in record GCSE pass levels next summer.”

It says that children are being given pills “to see whether the proven benefits it has already brought children and young people in earlier trials can boost exam performances too”. The council’s chief schools inspector is “convinced” that these pills “could have a direct impact on their GCSE results … the county-wide trial will continue until the pupils complete their GCSE examinations next June, and the first test of the supplement’s effectiveness will be when they sit their ‘mock’ exams this December.”

Unfortunately the GCSE results for Durham were rather disappointing this year. This fact was not press-released by the county council.

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