Perthshire mum’s anger after watchdog clears controversial school pupil survey

Children as young as nine were surveyed as part of the Evidence2Success project.
Children as young as nine were surveyed as part of the Evidence2Success project.

A controversial council survey which asked young school pupils about drug taking and sexual issues did not breach data protection rules, according to a powerful watchdog.

The Evidence2Success project “well-being survey” was referred to the Information Commissioner by a horrified Perthshire parent. She said she will appeal and is even considering taking the issue to European level.

The survey provoked outrage due to the perceived explicit and intrusive nature of some of the questions asked of children as young as nine.

There was also alarm among parents who said they had not consented to their children taking part. Perth and Kinross Council and NHS Tayside undertook the £225,000 probe of pupil issues to better target future resources.

They said the answers would be anonymous and insisted all parents had been able to opt out.

Following a three-month investigation, the Information Commissioner, which can fine bodies up to £500,000, ruled the local authority had done nothing wrong.

Senior policy officer Maureen Falconer said: “There is no strong indication that Perth and Kinross Council has failed to comply with its obligations under the (Data Protection) Act in this case.

“This is because the data derived from the survey has been fully anonymised and cannot identify any one individual. As a result, the data is not personal data for the purposes of the act and it does not apply.”

Deborah Thomas has appealed the decision, calling it “deeply wrong.”

She said: “Many parents did not receive an opt-out consent form and children were not afforded enough time in the classroom setting to consider their options to withdraw or discuss it with a parent or guardian.

“There is something deeply wrong and it is particularly worrying as it concerns the data of very young subjects, many of them ‘looked after’ and with additional needs and challenges.”

The appeal rests with the assistant information commissioner but Mrs Thomas is already considering approaching the European Data Protection Supervisor. The 24-page survey quizzed more than 8,600 pupils on a range of topics.

Parents and carers were supposed to receive a letter at home giving their children the chance to opt out of participation, while a further opportunity was to be given to children before they began.

Questions included whether youngsters have attended school “drunk, on drugs or high” and had numerous questions about named drugs.

Pupils were asked whether “all in all, I am inclined to think that I am a failure” and whether “life is not worth it”.

A questionnaire for 14 to 16-year-olds asked about their sexual habits, including graphic descriptions of what is considered “sexual intercourse”. Complaints were made to the local authority when the nature of the questions became clear.

A spokesman for Perth and Kinross Council said: “The council was always confident that the methodology used in collecting this data was sound.”