EDUCATION bosses have insisted that giving daily fish oil capsules to up to 5,000 teenagers will really make a difference, despite criticism by some experts.

Dave Ford, Durham County Council's chief schools inspector, said the scheme, which is hoping to improve exam results, was not experimental but was the practical application of scientific evidence.

That evidence, based on earlier trials involving children at junior and secondary schools in County Durham, had convinced the local education authority to back the latest project.

"We are convinced it will be beneficial to our students," said Mr Ford, who helped launch the Durham food supplements trial at a press conference in Belmont School, Durham City.

The project, which will eventually be offered to every 15-year-old in County Durham's 36 comprehensive schools, will involve young people taking six capsules containing eye-q fish oil and evening primrose oil extracts every day.

Unlike earlier trials in Durham, there will not be a control group of pupils given dummy capsules, to enable comparisons to be made. Instead, every youngster who signs up will receive active capsules.

Nutritionalist Dr Alex Richardson, director of charity Food and Behaviour Research, expressed doubt about the value of the scheme.

"Durham is really going to struggle to come up with some hard evidence to prove they have made a difference," he said.

His doubts were echoed by Professor Tom Sanders, head of nutrition at King's College London, who said the council was being duped because the project was "not good science".

The Northern Echo reported yesterday that the aim was to boost GCSE results to help give young people from Durham a better start in life.

Dr Madelaine Portwood, senior educational psychologist with Durham County Council and a world authority on food supplementation, gave a presentation that highlighted the large body of evidence to support giving food supplements to children.

She said the eye-q capsules that will be used in the scheme were rich in substances called omega-3 and omega-6, which modern diets lack and which are essential to improve brain function.

Dr Portwood also revealed that a recent trial among junior school children in Adelaide, South Australia, had confirmed the positive results of an earlier food supplements trial involving 12 Durham junior schools.

Judith Wilkinson, headteacher of Belmont School, said: "We already have parents who are giving fish oil capsules to their sons and daughters. We have seen a difference in concentration in some pupils already."

Thomas Robinson, a 15-year-old pupil at the school, said he had already been taking eye q supplements for a year and during that time he had passed two GCSEs at A grade.

"People have said I can concentrate better and my social skills have improved," he said.

Adam Kelliher, managing director of eye-q manufacturers Equazen, said he was delighted to be able to provide £1m-worth of capsules for the Durham project.