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School sex survey was delayed two years ago because of concerns

The health and wellbeing census asks S4 to S6 pupils questions about sexual experience.
The health and wellbeing census asks S4 to S6 pupils questions about sexual experience.

A controversial survey which asks children as young as 14 about their sexual experience was put on hold two years ago due to concerns.

The Scottish Government planned to conduct the health and wellbeing census in 2019/20 but postponed it due to worries about questions concerning sexual health.

A planned pilot involving just a few local authorities was then scuppered by the pandemic before schools began distributing the survey last term.

The survey asks some explicit questions, including “How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”, for which multiple choice answers include ‘oral sex’ and ‘vaginal or anal sex’.

One of the questions for S4 to S6 pupils in the health and wellbeing census.

Parents group Connect is among the latest to object to it, raising concerns about pupils’ privacy, informed consent and how the data will be used.

Documents released by the Scottish Government in response to an FOI request reveal that Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville and Health Secretary Humza Yousaf were told in September of the delay due to previous concerns.

Dundee-based Conservative MSP for North East Maurice Golden said the Q&A should have been binned two years ago.

He said: “It seems the very valid concerns about these questions were raised long before the survey was pushed by the Scottish Government.

They were right to shelve it in 2019/20 and should have just scrapped it altogether.”

Maurice Golden, Conservative MSP North East

“That should tell ministers everything they need to know about this intrusive and entirely inappropriate project.

“They were right to shelve it in 2019/20 and should have just scrapped it altogether.

“Quite what changed in that period is a mystery, but parents across the area deserve an explanation.”

Communication to the ministers from government officers states that the census was to be conducted in the 2019/20 school year but “due to concerns about the sexual health questions, and the lack of questions on relationships, this was delayed”.

Local authorities are conducting the survey based on questions composed by the Scottish Government. Several councils have refused to do so, however, or delayed their census.

Survey in Tayside and Fife

Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross councils are circulating the survey in their schools but Fife Council has delayed to allow councillors to scrutinise the contents.

The census is for pupils from P5 to S6 and covers various topics but some questions, including those about sexual health, are only for S4 and above.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As part of the process of developing the health and wellbeing census, and prior to finalisation, the Scottish Government sought feedback from relevant stakeholders and responded to this – as set out in the Freedom of Information release.

“Health and wellbeing surveys like this one are not new and play a crucial role in ensuring children and young people have access to the help, advice and services they need.

“Parents/carers and children and young people are informed of how their data will be used in advance of any taking part in the census and they can decide to opt out if they wish.

“If children and young people do take part, they can skip any question they don’t wish to answer or state that they would ‘prefer not to say’.

“We fully support the administration of this important, voluntary, census, and we will continue to engage with stakeholders on its implementation.”

‘Scrap school sex survey’: Our reader poll finds 80% against sex questions for children