More Fish Oil Slipperiness

I have already commented on the non-decisions made about the non-trial of fish-oils in Durham here. More information has come my way.

In her letter to me of 29 February, Laura Booth of the Information Commissioner’s Office wrote:-

“The Council has stated that the decision to implement the fish oil initiative was not made by the Council; it was an initiative supported by the Council, however the decision whether or not to introduce the supplement was a matter for individual schools.” [italics mine – JQH]

Quite unambiguously not a Council initiative, then. A little vague as to where the initiative came from, it implies the schools without saying so outright. I wondered whether the initiative had actually originated within Equazen, the manufacturers of the pils to be used .

Consequently I began emailing individual secondary schools in Durham. The text of my email was:-

“FAO the Head Teacher

Dear Sir/Madam

I have been following coverage of the [fish oils initiative] both in the press and on the internet. I am not a Durham resident but I am the parent of a secondary school age child and therefore have an interest in such initiatives.

I would be most grateful if you could let me know what led to the fish oil supplements being introduced and whether or not they had the anticipated effects on the GCSE results.

Thank you in advance.

Yours sincerely

John Hawcock”

I got one reply – and most interesting it was too:-

“Thank you for your enquiry regarding the [fish oils initiative. It] was arranged by Durham County Council as a whole. I have forwarded your email onto our contact and have asked them to respond regarding your query. [italics mine – JQH]


[name given]

[named school]”

So the decision was not made by the Council but it was arranged by Durham County Council as a whole. I’m confused.

Today I received the information the ICO did persuade Durham to cough up. It includes a letter to all Year 11 students and begins:-

“Dear Year 11 Student

Durham Year 11 Raising Achievement Initiative

You may have already heard about this new Durham initiative…”

and concludes:-

“Yours sincerely

David G Ford

Chief Inspector”

Mr Ford quite rightly also wrote to parents, saying in part:-

“…Durham County Council is able to take forward its work in improving GCSE results in an exciting new way. We have formed a partnership with Equazen Ltd to provide ‘EyeQ’ Omega 3 (fish oil) supplements to pupils currently in Year 11…

A ‘Parent Information Sheet’ is included which begins:-

“This study has been developed by David Ford, Durham’s Chief Inspector for schools…”

Dr Madeleine Portwood, the Senior Educational Psychologist, also gets a name check.

A paental consent form is also included. It is headed:-

Parental Consent Form

Durham Year 11

Raising Achievement Initiative

but has an Equazen logo rather than a Durham County Council logo.

How can Durham County Council claim that the decision was not theirs when their Chief Inspector of Schools was clearly heavily involved in the initiative? Who made the decision to form a partnership with Equazen? If it is indeed true that “no written reports were prepared for senior officials or elected members in relation to the fish oil initiative” as Durham told me in February 2007, then why the hell not? Aren’t Councillors supposed to have an overview as to what their officials are doing, especially when partnerships are being formed with private companies?


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13 Responses to “More Fish Oil Slipperiness”

  1. jdc Says:

    If the schools didn’t make the decision and the council didn’t make the decision… it must have been Equazen. I hadn’t realised they were in charge of our education policy now.

  2. draust Says:

    Tried to post something about this but keep getting weird “you’ve said that already” messages. Ah well.

    Anyway, nice digging – think Ford (especially) and Portwood are the people to whom the trials seem to lead back… though one would also wonder where their Director of Education was in all this.

  3. draust Says:

    Oops… I mean trails seem to lead back. Perhaps I am confused by Durham’s confusion of trials and trails / trailers (as in advertising)

  4. draust Says:

    PS, if you email me at draustblog *at* gmail-dot-com I can send you my other thoughts (the blocked post) on this, and where you might usefully take the crusade next. (My older email address on fsnet has been deleted by those helpful – not – people at Orange).

  5. jaycueaitch Says:

    I emailed draust and he replied, saying in part:-

    “One thing to say is that the powers of elected Councillors is sometimes overestimated. In a lot of places, especially in large urban municiplaities, the senior Council OFFICERS have a lot of discretion and considerable power. In the city where I live the two people that really seem to matter are the Leader of the ruling party group on Council and the long serving but UNELECTED Chief Executive…

    “The upshot of this is that in the Fish Oil case it is probably plausible that the Durham Education Department originated, planned and ran the “initiative” and also that the Council (as in “the elected Councillors in Chamber”) never voted on it and simply waved it through.”

    Could be. Although my experience is that senior officials put papers in front of Councillors to vote on (and possibly to be too stupid to realise the implications).This way their arses are covered if the shit hits he fan.

    I know this from a period approx 20 years ago when I was the press officer for Bromley NALGO. At the time the Director of Social Services had been involved in dodgy contracting arrangements and got away with it for as long as he did because the SS Committee had approved his actions.

    Incidently, I think I collected at least as many threats of legal action in that period as Quackometer has had from woos.

  6. McCruiskeen Says:

    On 31st October 2006, I wrote to Councillor Claire Vasey, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Durham County Council and asked several very pertinent questions concerning the fish oil “trial.” My point in writing to her was that she, presumably, had scrutiny over the planning and management of this “trial.” Councillor Vasey rep;lied to say that she had passed my letter to David Ford “in order for him to address the issues you have raised.” I took this to mean that she presumably didn’t know much about it and was therefore unable to answer my detailed questions.
    David Ford wrote to me on 13th November with the following responses (you should be able to guess what my questions were!)

    1. DCC approached Equazen
    2. There have been no financial inducements from Equazen in cash or in kind.
    3. The initiative was planned by me (David Ford)
    4. Its aim is to support our existing Key Stage 4 strategy
    5. That aim has not been changed
    6. The initiative was offered as an opportunity for schools. Individual head teachers (in their capacity as managers of autonomous institutions) agreed that the initiative should take place in their schools.
    7. A project plan was prepared as an information pack for schools which was shared with them at a briefing meeting. Similar packs were distributed to all parents and there were also information meetings for them.
    8. The evaluation approach has been discussed with the head teachers. It will focus on uptake, teacher’s (sic) perceptions and outcomes compared with predictions.
    9. David Ford is leading the initiative
    10. The evaluation will be managed through participating head teachers

    Following my questions in the council chamber in February 2007, Councillor Vasey in her replies, failed to fully address my important second question concerning the role of members in this affair. Following further correspondence from me to the Leader of the Council, a supplemetary answer was posted on their website some several weeks later. This is the official line which is now being followed:

    “A recommendation to use Omega3 supplement was made by officers in line with the normal advisory relationship between the county council and its schools. In that sense, members were not directly involved in the decision, although key members were made aware of and supported provisding this opportunity to schools.”

    I wrote to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Albert Nugent, on 30th March 2008 asking who these “key members” were and what the nature of their support was. I sent a reminder, asking again for the information on 14th April 2008. As yet (16th April) I have had no reply.

    I shall post any reply I might receive.

    Those interested should check out the “Listen Again” version of the “You and Yours” programme of Monday 14th April on Radio 4 at:

    The section on the Durham Fish Oil Farce begins 42 minutes into the broadcast and it is fascinating to hear David Ford making a complete fool of himself, using “trial” when he meant “initiative” and to listen to Dr Madeleine Portwood digging herself into a hole. One is reminded of Denis Healey’s First Law on Holes: “When in one; stop digging!”

    Ah well, I suppose Lurcio’s Law applies too: “Semper in excretia sumus: solem profundum variat.”

  7. jaycueaitch Says:

    Excellent stuff McCruiskeen. Thanks.

    It is clear that Durham never expected to be challenged on their actions, which is why they never troubled to get their story straight. Some of what they told you contradicts what they told the Information Commissioner’s Office. The FOIA isn’t worth much if officials can lie and get away with it.

  8. McCruiskeen Says:

    Further to my previous post of 17th April:

    In my letter to Councillor Nugent of 30th March I also asked WHEN the “key members” were informed.

    David Ford is on record as saying that he feels that Durham County Council has been unfairly criticised. His hubris is quite breathtaking when considered rationally. He also appears to be ignoring Denis Healey’s First Law of Holes (when in one: stop digging!) and if one analyses his recent pronouncements on the matter, his position now appears to be that after a lengthy analysis of the data he hopes to be confident about possibly giving people an indication that there might be something worth following up!”

    Now coming from some junior officer in the organisation, this would be bad enough, but remember this is the ex County Durham Schools Chief Inspector, now Head of Achievement Services for the Children and Young People’s Service of Durham County Council. Precisely what does he think he has achieved in all of this, apart from making his council a laughing stock? David Ford started this trial (sorry!) initiative when he was Chief Inspector, just before the amalgamation of the Education and Social Services Departments. Big jobs and empires were at stake and one wonders if this fact might explain the inordinate determination with which this trial (sorry) initiative was planned and pushed through at such a critical time. The County Council (and David Ford) claim that it is not a top down initiative, but was suggested to independent and autonomous schools who apparently all rushed to take it up. Oh yeah? Pull the other leg!

    The really funny thing (if it were not actually so serious) is that the spin they trot out (as they simply rewrite history to suit themselves) not only doesn’t add up, but is totally risible. But this is County Durham, remember, and were a monkey to be put up as a candidate for Labour on 1st May next, it would get elected. This is what happens, as I see it, when the ruling party of a council knows for certain that they will be re-elected no matter what and the officers know that so long as they keep the members sweet, they are secure. Funny old world eh?

  9. Getting The Story Straight « Letting Off Steam Says:

    […] going by the username McCruiskeen has posted a couple of interesting posts recently here. S/he has been questioning Durham County Council about the fish oil trial initiatve and has been […]

  10. jaycueaitch Says:

    Incidently, McCruiskeen, have Durham told you how key members were “made aware” of the “initiatve”. You see, in response to my FOIA request they claimed that there were no reports to elected Members…

  11. pv Says:

    Anyone going under the title “Head of Achievement Services” should be taken out and put in the stocks, for public abuse and ridicule!

  12. Paul Thompson Says:

    DCC have studiously avoided giving me any details of the (alleged) members who were made aware of the fish oil trial/study/initiative* (*delete as applicable) or of what their (alleged) support comprised, despite several qritten requests. Indeed, they decided that they no longer wished to communicate with me on the grounds that they had given answers to all my questions and any further correspondence would be a waste of their officers’ valuable time. I think they had to close me down because they do not want to be cornered into revealing who the (alleged) members who were (allegedly) informed about the “trial” were and what support they gavfe. This is the central issue – accountability and it seems to me that there was none.

    Even now the waters continue to be muddied as DCC rewrite history and trot out “spin” to get themselves off the hook. David Williams, Corporate Head of Children and Young People’s Services for DCC wrote to Kevan Jones MP (Hon. member for North Durham) in response to a request from him for an explanation about the fish oil “trial” that Equazen had offered the free capsules to DCC who felt that it was an offer they could not refuse and would have been criticised had they refused it. Utter tripe!! It was DCC who solicited the capsule offer from Equazen and so must have had a plan (the brainchild of David Ford). Their own press release and a letter to me from David Ford confirm this. Certain people in DCC wouldn’t recognise the truth if it bit them round the throat! Their various and constantly changing stories, their backtracking, selective amnesia and blatant untruths (ok, let’s call a spade a spade – lies!) all point to the cover up of an utterly disastrous cock-up by David Ford et al, who were caught out when challenged and have been on the back foot ever since. Parents have to entrust the oversight of their children’s education to these people. One senses that they think ethics is a county near London.

  13. More From Madeleine Portwood « Letting Off Steam Says:

    […] research but a conference presentation – always a bad sign. Secondly, it was presented by Madeleine Portwood of Durham fish-oil trial initiative fame. Now just because she’s been involved with one piece […]

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