A furious row is about to break out between the Scottish Government and Scottish Churhes = Catholic and Church of Scotland plus Moslims and religious sects – over a ” health and wellbeing” survey which asks teenage pupils detailed questions about sex.
The census features questions like “How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”
However, Dumbarton Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, right, today stepped in to head off the row for with this statement: ““I have been contacted by a number of local parents who have understandable concerns about some of the questions within the survey.
“I share their concerns as I do not believe all of the questions are completely age appropriate and I have written to the Scottish Government.
“There are also comments raised by the Scottish Children’s Commissioner that the survey might not be anonymous. I would therefore urge the Scottish Government to pause the roll out of this survey.”
The subsequent multiple choice answers including ‘oral sex’ and ‘vaginal or anal sex’, which are certain to be anathema to religious groups including the Catholic Church in Scotland.
The survey is for pupils in fourth, fifth and sixth years and councils will administer it, although West Dunbartonshire has put the whole thing on hold – but only for the moment. The youngest fourth year pupils can be aged just 15.
However, Scotland’s Catholic bishops and concerned “conservative” laypersons have called on the Scottish Government to withdraw the Health and Wellbeing survey sent to schools to allow for changes to be made.
They maintain this would allow concerns raised by the Scottish Catholic Education Service regarding the terminology of the questions and the process to ensure that parents are able to give informed consent to be addressed.
A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “Scotland’s Catholic Bishops share the concerns of many parents about the explicit nature of some questions which young people are being asked in this survey.
“Responses from the Scottish Government to the Scottish Catholic Education Service have failed to address legitimate concerns regarding the terminology of the questions and the process to ensure that parents are able to give informed consent.
“We ask that this survey be withdrawn to allow for adaptations to be made. Failure to respond to these concerns will demonstrate not only a disregard for the rights of parents but may risk risk re-traumatising some young people who might have suffered from harmful sexual encounters.”
Councils can choose which questions to ask and children and parents can choose to opt out entirely.
A group set up by the Scottish Government created the questions for the controversial survey. The group includes their own representatives and analysts, Public Health Scotland, local authorities, schools and Education Scotland.
In this article, we allow you to have your say with our poll.
Depending on their answers, pupils may then be asked:
Again, depending on earlier answers, pupils may then be asked:
The final question asks:
‘Parents kept in the dark’
Politicians have raised doubts about the nature of the questions in the health and wellbeing census.
Mr Burnett said: “As a parent, I share the public’s concerns about the suitability of these questions for different age groups. There is an appropriate way to get this level of information.
“And I hope that local councils will take the needs of children and parents on board and substantially adapt these surveys.
“Parents have been kept in the dark about this by the Scottish government, which has been characteristically opaque in providing the questionnaire contents in the first place.
“The questions of any such survey should be publicly available before it’s completed.
“I would also like some guarantees in place over pupil privacy, and how the information will be processed by the Scottish government.”
LibDem councillor wants reassurance
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Martin Greig said the survey should be “rigorously controlled” it has to be made clear why the information is being collected.
He believes it may prove to be useful and is hopeful it has a “public health benefit.”
Mr Greig said: “The point of gathering the data could be clearer. There has to be a definite public health benefit that will result from collecting intimate and personal information.
“Young people and need more health and care services to meet their needs and this kind of exercise might help to identify vulnerabilities in the younger generations and show how to target the increased resources in their interests.
Pupils would complete the health and wellbeing census during class time on computers or tablets.
Older high school pupils will also be quizzed on topics also including drug and alcohol use and mental health and all will be asked about physical activity, diet, mental health, bullying, sleep patterns and body image.
Scottish Government response
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The census is administered by local government to provide information about the health and wellbeing of children and young people, to help improve the support that they provide.
“Whilst the Scottish Government has worked with stakeholders to design a set of questionnaires, it is for local authorities to determine which questions they actually ask. However the Scottish Government fully supports administering of this important census.
“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 and carers can opt out from their child taking part, and the child themselves can choose to opt out.”
West Dunbartonshire Council refuse to speak to The Democrat, even on importanmt matters such as this.
Some councils are not taking part in the survey because they have either done their own, staffing pressures or using existing local statistics.
What do you think? Should pupils be asked these questions or should the survey be withdrawn altogether? Take our poll.
Do you think children should be asked these explicit questions?
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Meanwhile, Scots government ministers dismiss calls by children’s commissioner to stop sex census for children
By Martin Williams in The Herald
Nicola Sturgeon and Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson.
Ministers have rejected calls by Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner to pause a controversial government census that asks school kids if they’ve had anal sex over human rights concerns.
Bruce Adamson echoed concerns that the Health and Wellbeing Census, which asks young adults about their experience of drug use, alcohol consumption and sex, did not respect a pupil’s right to privacy.
His comments come after the Herald and the Herald on Sunday revealed that eight local authorities were refusing to take part in the census and that privacy details showed that the anonymous survey was not actually confidential at all.
He said: “Any survey conducted in schools needs to be administered using an approach that respects young people’s rights including their right to privacy and right to give informed consent.
“We are concerned that the survey collects the pupil’s Scottish Candidate Number and young people need to be made aware that this may allow them to be identified.
“Young people should have their rights clearly communicated to them in advance, including the key information that their participation is not compulsory. Young people and their families need to be involved in the design and delivery of such information gathering.
“It is important that teachers know how to manage any issues that may arise as a result of wellbeing questions being asked in school.
“A number of local authorities have also raised concerns which calls into question the effectiveness of this method of processing the survey. The Scottish Government should pause the rolling out of this survey until it can address the concerns raised and ensure a rights compliant process.”
But a Scottish Government spokesman said it would be “irresponsible to withdraw a census which focusses on children and young people’s health and wellbeing, particularly during the course of a pandemic”.
“We are in regular dialogue with the local authorities, and monitoring progress.”
They said they believed that 24 local authorities are taking part with eight not taking part.
The First Minister on Thursday refused to say whether she would answer a controversial school pupils’ census where children are asked “intrusive” questions about sex.
Parents have raised questions about the content of the government’s Health and Wellbeing Census, which asks pupils as young as 14 intimate questions on their sexual activity.
While eight of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have refused to take part in the census a further 13 are reviewing its contents and another one, City of Edinburgh Council, is distributing it excluding questions “that we felt would present difficulties”.
The Scottish Government-sanctioned census asks questions only meant to be filled out by children as young as 14 about their sexual experiences.
One question – aimed at pupils in S4 and S6 – says: “People have varying degrees of sexual experience. How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”
It also asks how many people they have had sexual intercourse with in the past 12 months.
Meghan Gallacher, the Scottish Conservative children’s spokeswoman, asked the First Minister on Thursday whether she would be comfortable answering the questions posed in the survey, while raising issues that the anonymous census was not strictly confidential at all.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Well firstly on the issue of confidentiality the questionnaires have been specially designed so that the information provided by children and young people is used for statistical and research purposes only and that ensures that any results of the research or resulting statistics will not be made available in a form which identifies individual children and young people.”
The Herald on Sunday revealed that only the census is not totally confidential.
If local authority analysts see any answers of concern they can take action to help kids concerned and the identity of the children will be sought.
Privacy information attached states: “If analysts within your local authority see anything in the answers provided by some children and young people that raises some concerns, they may need to do something to help these individuals.
“This would be the only time that the identity of individual children and young people would be sought by identifying these individuals from a separate database that holds the names of children and young people together with their Scottish Candidate Number, and for which the local authority also has access too.
The census is to be given to kids in P5, 6 and 7 but the younger groups’ questions are targeted on matters such as physical activity, mental health, sleep patterns, social media, body image, and bullying. It also quizzes them on how easy it is to talk to family members about things that bother them and whether their parents really care about their education.
Ms Sturgeon went on: “This is a voluntary survey it is only for as for S4 secondary, year four and upwards. Any parent can refuse to give consent and of course, any young person can opt not to take part in the survey or to skip particular questions in the survey. It is not mandatory.
“But I come back to the fundamental point. We cannnot choose to pretend that young people of this age group do not have it the experiences that the member has narrated or is not exposed online, in the digital world we live in and we can choose to pretend that young people, girls, sometimes in particular, are not subjected to harassment and pressure around sexual matters.
“We can refuse to ask the questions so that we don’t know the answers, or we can get the answers that then allows us to better support young people to provide the advice and the information and the guidance to young people that supports and enables them to make positive healthy choices for the future. I do choose the latter and I would ask the Conservatives seriously and others, yes, to engage in any legitimate concerns around these matters.
The eight councils that have refused to participate are West Lothian Council, Falkirk, East Lothian, Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, North Lanarkshire, Aberdeen and Highland.
The 13 councils that have said they are reviewing its content are Orkney, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, Shetland, Fife, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, Scottish Borders, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.
The ten local authorities that are distributing the census are Glasgow City, Perth and Kinross, Stirling, Angus, South Ayrshire, Moray, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire.
City of Edinburgh Council is distributing it having excluded questions “that we felt would present difficulties”.
The Scottish Government added: “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.
“They comply with UK GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], as part of process of informing parents/carers and children and young people in deciding if they wish to take part in the census. The census documentation, and the questionnaires themselves, are explicit about this.
“As with any situation involving children and young people, if welfare concerns, such as abuse or harm to young people, are identified, local authorities are permitted to share information in order to safeguard the young person.
“Scottish Government officials will continue to engage with the office of the Children’s Commissioner on this issue.”