Council halts contentious survey on pupils’ sexual experiences

Fife Council has agreed to postpone its participation in the Scottish Government’s Health and Wellbeing Census.

Council halts contentious survey on pupils’ sexual experiences iStock

Fife has become the latest local authority to raise question marks over a new Scottish Government questionnaire which asks school pupils about their sexual experiences.

Fife Council has agreed to postpone its participation in the Scottish Government’s Health and Wellbeing Census, which will ask youngsters as young as 14 for information about their sexual relationships and contraception, as well as their drinking, drug and smoking habits.

West Lothian Council has already refused to issue the survey in its schools after a review of the questions “brought up significant concerns”, while parents’ group UFT Scotland said the “desire to force kids into growing up too quickly” was “puzzling”.

One question – for pupils in S4 and S6 – probes people’s varying degrees of sexual experience, with multiple choice answers including “oral sex” and “vaginal or anal sex”.

Others quiz teenagers on contraception methods and what age they were when they had sex for the first time.

Amid reservations about the “controversial and inappropriate” nature of some of the questions posed, Fife councillors have now paused the imminent rollout of the survey pending further scrutiny from the council’s education and children services sub-committee.

Conservative councillor Kathleen Leslie, who brought an urgent motion to full council on Thursday, said a closer look was needed as to why the survey is necessary, what questions will be asked of which year groups, who will see any data collected and what use will be made of that information.

“The Scottish Government are requesting to add to their already burgeoning collection of data to snoop around what our young people are doing in their lives, outside of the classroom,” she said.

“Not only what sports and activities they enjoy and take part in, but what their sexual preferences and endeavours are.

“It also pries into whether a young person has a boyfriend or girlfriend. That sort of question in itself is deeply personal and can potentially impact on a young person who is struggling with their sexuality or who is not in a relationship.”

Cllr Leslie raised questions about anonymity, privacy, data sharing and how involved parents and carers will be in the process, and wondered what might become of youngsters under the age of 16 – and therefore under the age of consent – if they answer ‘yes’ to questions of a sexual nature.

“We’re not asking for the survey to be blocked – we’re asking for caution and for us to consider our position fully before considering whether or not to proceed with it,” she continued.

Her party colleague Dave Dempsey seconded the motion, and asked councillors to consider if they would be happy to answer a question asking if they had used a condom the last time they had vaginal or anal sex.

“Would you think it was impertinent? Would you feel you shouldn’t be asked that?” he noted.

“Would you be outraged, embarrassed or what? Would your constituents suffer the same reaction?

“If your answer is anything other than ‘well yes I’d be perfectly happy to answer that’, then should we be asking these questions of our children without having a very detailed discussion of them in advance.

“We’re not asking it for to be shelved or binned – we’re just asking for it to be given proper scrutiny before it is rolled out to our school pupils.”

There were no amendments submitted and the motion was passed.

By local democracy reporter Craig Smith

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