‘Education, education, education.’ Tony Blair’s favourite mantra and something most of us would instinctively agree with, not least when it comes to teaching and training people how to use the roads and how to avoid the dangers they throw up.
But Professor Frank McKenna of Reading University has a slightly different take on the subject.
To quote him: “Educational interventions are often designed in the absence of theory or any formal body of evidence. In some circumstances they may inadvertently increase exposure to risk.”
He continues: “The one tiny inconvenient problem concerns effectiveness. Having examined a broad array of public health interventions, it might be hoped that a definitive conclusion could be reached that educational interventions are unambiguously successful. The results do not support that conclusion.”
The professor – who made his comments in a report for the RAC Foundation – says the problem is not just limited to driver education but spreads across most public health schemes including those surrounding obesity, smoking, drinking and drugs.
He believes these schemes do little to change behaviour; however what they might do is create an environment where compulsion – such as the smoking ban – becomes more acceptable amongst members of the public because they then understand why it is necessary.
His views are certainly controversial and following his appearances on BBC TV and radio this morning the phones at the Foundation office have not stopped ringing. There have been several who have taken exception to what Frank McKenna has said, but interestingly even most of them recognise there is sense in what he says.
The bottom line is that we cannot have education for education’s sake. Interventions must be grounded in fact and not faith. When judging road safety education schemes we need to concentrate on their effectiveness, not just their creativity and innovation. Saving lives is a serious, unglamorous business, and professionals need to be rewarded for their success not merely their imagination.