School sex survey: Edinburgh councillors back controversial census

Edinburgh pupils will be asked questions about sex and relationships in a controversial census after an attempt to stop the school survey was blocked by city councillors. 

The Scottish Government-sanctioned census asks questions only meant to be filled out by children as young as 14 about their sexual experiences.

So far 11 out of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have already distributed the census as provided by the Scottish Government – Glasgow City, Perth and Kinross, Stirling, Angus, South Ayrshire, Moray, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire.

At least 14 local authorities have said they have not committed to distributing the census.

Edinburgh Conservative councillor Callum Laidlaw led an effort to stop the survey going to schools across the capital after finding some of the questions “inappropriate”.

He said children as young as 14 would be asked ‘how much, if any, sexual experience have you had?’, and asks about the first time they had sex.

He added it questions youngsters’ experiences of ‘oral sex’, different sexual practices and the use of contraceptives.

As reported earlier in the week by the Herald, the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is responsible for upholding data privacy is looking into concerns that the controversial census billed as anonymous by Nicola Sturgeon as for “statistical and research purposes only” is not strictly confidential.

Both parents and pupils will be given the option of opting out from participating in the study.

Parents have raised questions about the content of the government’s Health and Wellbeing Census, leading to criticism from opposition parties.  At a full council meeting on Thursday (December 16), Cllr Laidlaw urged members to support halting the roll-out of what he called the “unassumingly titled” Health and Wellbeing Census.

He said: “Quite frankly, I would be surprised if any members of this chamber would be comfortable answering such questions. We must therefore agree with the many parents and indeed pupils who deem this inappropriate and very concerning.

“I think we can just about remember how embarrassing and awkward we felt in our early teens and how powerful and destructive peer pressure can be. Putting such a request on sexual experience into the classroom, indignantly engendering discussion on how it will be answered, not only leads to very real questions as to how accurate such answers will be but also questions about the impact on the mental health of young people.

HeraldScotland: Example of questions askedExample of questions asked

“We have to ask what happens when children who require additional support with reading are faced with these questions – would a teacher or classroom assistant have to read it out? What consideration too has been given to the possibility that such questions might indeed be traumatising for a child who has experienced abuse or one that is struggling with their sexuality?

“Parents too had been told the survey was anonymous and for research purposes but it has been revealed, of course, that participants will enter their unique candidate number.”

READ MORE: Privacy regulators investigate Scottish ministers’ sex census for kids

Conservative councillor Joanna Mowat said that a number of Edinburgh’s private schools have decided to opt-out of taking part due to the “intrusive nature of the questions”.

SNP Councillor David Key added: “I’m a parent of two children at council schools in Edinburgh and I’ve received no comments on parent council websites at all about this subject.

“As a ward councillor, I’ve received no emails on this subject. The City of Edinburgh Council has received no emails on this subject, I’m just amazed at the outrage that’s been expressed by Councillor Laidlaw and Councillor Mowat.”

A motion put forward by Councillor Laidlaw to halt the roll-out of the census and request a full report to be sent to the Education, Children and Families Committee was defeated by 32-24 votes.

Copy also supplied by Donald Turvill, Local Democracy Reporter

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