EDUCATION bosses still cannot say whether giving fish oil capsules to thousands of schoolchildren improved exam results last year.

In September 2006, Durham County Council revealed it was planning to give more than 3,000 teenage pupils free daily fish oil capsules to boost exam results.

Rather than conducting a scientific trial, with some children receiving fish oil and some receiving dummy capsules, the authority chose to give out free fish oil capsules to any pupil willing to take part.

More than 3,000 teenagers signed up to take the capsules, provided free by Equazen, the maker of food supplements, although only 832 took the capsules throughout the trial.

Eighteen months later, the council has been criticised for not revealing the results.

Ben Goldacre, who writes the Bad Science column for The Guardian, has criticised organisers of the Durham fish oil initiative for failing to publish the results of the study.

Mr Goldacre has been a critic of the Durham experiment from the outset, saying it was scientifically unsound.

Durham education officials have also come under pressure from Paul Thompson, a former County Durham headteacher, who has criticised the initiative from the beginning, describing it as a farce. Mr Thompson, who has questioned the ethics of the council working so closely with a private company, has repeatedly asked officers for more information about the initiative.

Last night, David Ford, the head of achievement services at Durham County Council, said he believed the council had been unfairly criticised.

He said that because of the scale of the study, it was taking a long time to analyse all the data.

He also dismissed claims that last summer's GCSE results in Durham were poor.

He said: "We actually had our best ever set of GCSE results in County Durham last summer.

"We have been extremely cautious about saying anything we cannot be absolutely confident about.

"What we are hoping is to give people indications that there might be something worth following up."

Mr Ford said it was hoped the data would lead to the publication of a paper about the Durham initiative in a scientific journal.

Previous studies in Durham primary schools involving fish oil supplements produced dramatic improvements in reading, writing, concentration and behaviour.