by Sonia Sodha
I attended a fascinating seminar in Parliament yesterday, at which Professor Del Elliiot, Director of the Center for the Study of Prevention and Violence (CSPV), spoke about his experience of promoting evidence-based programmes designed to tackle youth violence and anti-social behaviour in the US.
The centre runs a project called Blueprints, which has assessed the effectiveness of over 800 violence and drug abuse programmes according to rigorous evaluation criteria. The project has found that many programmes are ineffective at what they set out to do – or even worse, harmful.
Yet the US government continues to fund programmes that are ineffective – like programmes based on scare tactics, gun buyback programmes, some peer counselling programmes and neighbourhood watch programmes. At the same time, preventative programmes that have very high success rates remain relatively small scale.
Although there is a growing interest in the Blueprints approach in the UK, with cities such as Birmingham and Belfast developing services based on a rigorous evidence-based assessment of preventative programmes, we are a long way from this vision on a national scale.
To see this, we only have to look at the government’s schools White Paper published earlier this week. A strong theme of the White Paper was the government’s desire to be seen as decentralist, and there were lots of good ideas about decentralising budgets to schools. But at the same time, the White Paper put forward some very top-down proposals, such as giving each child an entitlement to a personal tutor and access to one-to-one tuition at age 10 and 11 if they are falling behind.
The evidence bases for these initiatives are weak. There is no evidence to suggest that mandating all schools to follow a particular pastoral support model is effective in promoting development and improving outcomes. The evidence on one-to-one tuition suggests an expensive intervention like this is much more effective if deployed when children are falling behind at age six or seven rather than letting the gap widen unnecessarily until children reach secondary school.
Politicians in Westminster have a lot to learn from the Blueprints approach.