Scribblings Resurrection

Anti-elephant sprays

Thursday, 21 April 2005

Cartoon elephant

Occasionally, I find myself in one of the school labs preparing chemicals for a lesson and a pupil will ask what I’m doing. Sometimes I’ll reply along the lines of “I’m making a spray to keep the elephants away”. Those pupils who aren’t already convinced I’m round the bend already might say “But there aren’t any elephants around here”. To which I, of course, will reply “That just shows how good my spray is, doesn’t it?”.

I was reminded of this when I read the report of a study done by Allyson MacVean of the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Safety at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College in today’s Guardian. Professor MacVean has evaluated a pilot scheme, funded by the police, which sent sniffer dogs into six schools with 5500 pupils between them to see if it had any effect on kids bringing drugs into school. During the year in which the scheme ran two unannounced searches were made in each of the schools each involving two sniffer dogs.

MacVean has pronounced the study a resounding success at least partly on the basis that over the year in which the scheme operated no drugs at all were discovered in any of the schools. No mention is made in the Guardian’s report, or in the BBC’s, of what, if any, drugs were in the schools before the scheme was running. Presumably, it has occurred to MacVean that there may well have been none. Hasn’t it?

MacVean is quoted as saying This report shows just how much pupils, parents and staff welcome such an initiative and have confidence that this is an effective part of the overall drugs education strategy. This statement is, I think, made on the basis of the results from a questionnaire distributed to pupils, parents and staff in which “most” reported that they were in favour of the use of sniffer dogs. According to the BBC’s report just 260 completed questionnaires were returned, 100 from pupils, 88 from parents and 72 from staff. This is less than 2% of pupils, less than 1% of parents and perhaps 15% of staff: hardly a representative sample on which to make such a sweeping statement.

If the reporting by the Guardian and the BBC is more or less accurate I think I’d think twice before deciding to enrol in any of Professor MacVean’s courses.

Posted 21 April 2005, 20:43 BST

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