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Schoolchildren in Fife WILL NOT be asked to complete ‘beyond crude’ sex survey – for now

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.

Schoolchildren in Fife will not be issued a controversial sex survey, pending a requested review of its content.

Fife Council is to ask the Scottish Government to reconsider questions in its health and wellbeing census, which asks children as young as 14 whether they have had oral, vaginal or anal sex.

It will also ask for complete confidentiality of children taking part, amid concerns they could be identified by the use of their Scottish candidate number on responses.

The local authority’s education and children’s services sub-committee chose to further delay the Q&A, originally to have been put to S4 to S6 pupils in Fife in December.

Ten other local authorities have already refused to conduct the survey drawn up by the Scottish Government to collect data on a wide range of subjects also including bullying, mental health, body image and alcohol and drug use.

The survey is for pupils in P5 to S6 but some questions, including those on sexual experience and drug use, are only for those in S4 or above.

These are the questions causing concern:

Depending on their answers, pupils may then be asked:

Again, depending on earlier answers, pupils may then be asked:

The final question asks:

NHS Fife public health director Dr Joy Tomlinson said the survey was an opportunity to understand the “really big challenge” of teenage pregnancy in parts of Fife.

She also said it would help ensure services were correct for children and young people as they recover from the pandemic.

But Labour councillor Linda Erskine, who proposed the amendment agreed by the committee, said some of the survey questions were “beyond crude”.

Lochgelly councillor Linda Erskine.

Assurance is needed, she said, that no child or young person can be identified from their response.

She said: “I do understand that collection of data can inform – we have done it in the past – and help develop future services but I, like many other councillors, have concerns and have had concerns raised by constituents about why the government would seek to collate information on the sexual activity and sexual preference of our young people.

“These questions will not reduce teenage pregnancies in Fife.”

SNP councillors on the committee had proposed scrapping the sexual health questions and use of Scottish candidate numbers to allow the rest of the survey to be conducted.

Suggesting the compromise, committee convener Craig Walker said: “These are difficult questions, I accept that.

There are very real dangers with regards to substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, sexual transmitted diseases among our children and young people.

Committee convener Councillor Craig Walker

“It would be dangerous to think we should ignore these matters. There are very real dangers with regards to substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among our children and young people, therefore these are very important subjects.

“We would be doing a disservice to our young people and children if we ignore this in its entirety.”

The survey is going ahead in Tayside schools. Six Angus schools started surveying S4 to S6 pupils in December, and the remaining two began this month. Those in Dundee will issue the survey in February and March. Perth and Kinross Council said its schools will conduct the census during the 2021/22 school session.

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