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Concern over Evidence2Success survey of schools by Perth & Kinross Council

Dee Thomas

Mother of 10 yr old research subject

Filed 22 Jan 2014

What is Evidence2Success?

Evidence2Success survey is suspected of being a Scottish government sponsored data mining exercise to underpin the introduction of the forthcoming Children's Bill. In particular it is alleged to have been done to facilitate the introduction of the "named person" legislation to give each and every child an appointed person (not the parent) to oversee the state approved upbringing of all children in Scotland.

Scotgov have made a firm commitment to Early Years intervention, which in a nutshell means catching developmental problems early in a child's life to prevent them turning into costly health or crime problems later in the child's development or adult life.

Nothing wrong with that in theory, until in practice this would appear to involve every child in each Local Authority being scored against a predetermined American scoring system that the Scottish Government has bought into.

It is a scoring system or project called Evidence2success, devised in America after the Columbine High School Shootings, to predict future shootings. It has been developed by various university bodies in the US who are hell bent on violence prevention via data collection. This they say can be achieved by predicting future adolescent and adult behaviour by collecting data throughout each child's life, and apparently even from before birth.

This "minority report" style labelling of individual and population behaviour - and likely tendencies toward violent antisocial behaviour or underage sex - has already been introduced in Perth and Kinross during 2013. It has taken the form of an intrusive classroom online survey of some 69 questions to children aged between 9 to 15 years.

The Perth & Kinross Evidence2Success Survey

This survey was carried out on 8600 children throughout the Perth and Kinross Local Authority area, but only in state schools. It was carried out without asking for the active opt in consent of the parents of these children.

The survey questions were extreme and of a highly personal and sensitive nature. Nine year olds were asked if they had smoked cannabis, if they felt they were a failure and if they felt that sometimes they could not go on.

Fourteen year olds were asked if in the past 30 days they had anal or vaginal sexual intercourse. They were also asked if they had ever contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

All children regardless of age were asked for their perception of the wealth of their family, how many people lived in their home, the relationship of those people to them, and their perception of the seriousness of family arguments.

On each of their answers Scottish children were scored against a template determined from the scores in the US model.

For fuller information about the questions please read the surveys at http://www.pkc.gov.uk/article/4899/Evidence2Success

They need to be read through the eyes and experience of an average 9 to 14 yr old. Then they need to be read with children in mind who have special educational needs or low reading skills. No child, whatever their intellectual or emotional capacity, was exempt from this survey unless their parent actively opted them out by writing to or ringing the Perth & Kinross Council.

Parents received what can only be described as an attractive advertising flyer, telling them that their child would be taking part in an international project - but without telling the parents the nature of the questions.

In the United States parents of children subjected to the same survey were told the questions, and were allowed to see the survey before actively opting their child in. No child with Special Educational needs was surveyed in the US project.

In Scotland this was "snuck in" under the parental radar. Any parents who did ring up to ask to see the questions were refused this option, and any parents who have since complained about the survey have been dismissed as lone voices of dissent.

So who is behind Evidence2Success?

A small charity based in England at Dartington, Devon - called the Social Research Unit (SRU) Dartington - first approached the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee in 2011, selling to it the concept of preventative spending via big data collection methods. The Scottish Government then furnished Local Authorities with what is called a "Change Fund" to spend on “Early Years” initiatives. Perth and Kinross Council responded by proposing to Scotgov that they should spend their Change Fund on conducting a pilot trial of the SRU Evidence2Success wellbeing survey.

It has not been established whether or not Perth & Kinross Council as a local authority put the contract out to tender. They appear to have simply approached SRU with a £225000 contract (shared with NHS Tayside) to collect the sensitive and personal data of 8600 school children in order to guide their Local Authority spending decisions well into the future.

When challenged by some parents as to why Independent schools were not included in the project, Perth & Kinross Council admitted that the Independent sector did not accept an invitation to take part.

Representation by parents to Scottish Government Analytical Services Department

After a prolonged campaign, some parents in Perthshire have now managed to convince the Scottish Government that there are serious flaws running through the entire Evidence2Success proposition. The Scottish Government Analytical Services Department have now been given full ethical and implementation control over the entire project. These parents have now been assured in writing by the Scottish Government that the project will not be rolled out as formerly planned to Angus or Dundee without the scrutiny and approval of Analytical Services. They are charged with ensuring compliance with the highest possible governmental standards of research method and ethics.

Parents have asked Analytical Services to look into a wide range of concerns including

  • parental consent,
  • fully informed participant consent,
  • possible coercion and duress by taking the survey in class time,
  • appropriateness of the questions relating to the age of the child,
  • mandatory child protection reporting,
  • and problems relating to the statistical significance of any findings.

Parents have made clear for example that, if a 14 yr old child is asked if they are having anal or vaginal sex, then the Local Authority has a mandatory duty to look into the circumstances of an affirmative answer. Not to do so risks the danger of the Local Authority missing a case of child abuse or grooming.

Equally, if a 9 yr old confirms that "sometimes they feel that they can’t go on", the Authority has a mandatory duty to act on that information to avoid a suicide attempt.

Mandatory Child Protection should according to Scotgov always trump confidentiality. Yet Perth and Kinross Council have confirmed in writing that they did not raise alerts against affirmative answers to these questions. Analytical Services at Scotgov are looking into this.

Harm done by the Evidence2Success survey

On a local level the harm of the project can be seen impacting on the whole community. Comrie in Perthshire is a mainly affluent village that prides itself on an excellent primary school, It is supported by an active community of locals and parents. It received a glowing HMiE report in 2012, with the inspector stating that the best practice at the school should be shared with other schools in Perth and Kinross. It praised the children for teamwork and leadership skills, and for what they contributed to the community.

In contrast, the Evidence2Success project has labelled Comrie Primary School children as having the worst level of academic engagement within the entire Perth and Kinross area. It has labeled their parents as possessing the worst “prosocial parenting skills” - which means that the parents do not take an interest in their children's development and activities either at school or at home.

This is so monumentally unjust as to be comical except that Perth and Kinross Council have published the Comrie school results, complete with cluster league tables on the Perth and Kinross Council website shown in the link to the Evidence2Success page shown above.

To prospective parents looking to place their child in a good local school this presents a dilemma. Do they believe the HMiE report showing a good school in an active community? Or do they believe the damning Evidence2Success results, which Perth & Kinross Council claim to provide robust and reliable data as to what is going on in children's lives.

The potential harm of these published results is that people may choose to place their child in a different primary school in Perthshire. If so, Comrie's school roll would diminish. This would affect the supply of young skilled families coming into the village with significant damage to the rural economy..The social fabric of a village attracting less and less youngsters to the school will be severely impacted.

What is to be done?

It is hoped that the review by Analytical Services will expose the minefield of potential harms inherent in this ill-conceived attempt to gauge children's wellbeing in Scotland. Research of any type should always aim to "do no harm". There are many other ways to capture this child wellbeing information. It is hoped that a full review of all the available options will be undertaken by the Scottish Government, and a proper tender process is adopted in future to ensure best practice for communities and best value for the taxpayer.

Mrs Dee Thomas
(mother of 10 yr old research subject)


Further Reading

Irvine, James (2014). Suspended? The case against the school survey.
Scottish Review, 12th January 2014 (Click Here to View)

Brown, Mary (2013). Comment on article by Tim Hobbs.
Scottish Review, The Cafe 12th January 2014 (Click Here to View)

Penker, Kat (2014). Taking the parents out of the picture.
Scottish Review, The Cafe 12th January 2014 (Click Here to View)

Hobbs, Tim (2013). Why we asked those ‘insensitive’ questions.
Scottish Review, 9th January 2014 (Click Here to View)

Roy, Kenneth (2013). At year's end, a victory for the parents.
Scottish Review, 24th December 2013 (Click Here to View)

Roy, Kenneth (2013). Scotland's prying state.
Scottish Review, 11th December 2013 (Click Here to View)