Attempt to halt school sex survey blocked

Friday December 17th 2021


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

An attempt to stop Edinburgh pupils being asked about sex and relationships in a controversial school survey has been blocked by city councillors.

It comes as the council has been asked to take part in the nationwide Health and Wellbeing Census, an online questionnaire for children in P5 to S6 prepared by the Scottish Government.

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.

The survey will be completed during class time and although they will not be asked to type in their name, pupils will be have to provide their SCN number which schools and the council could use to identify and offer support if responses flag concern.

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

At a full council meeting on Thursday, 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 impact on the mental health of young people.

“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 candidates number.”

A number of local authorities have already voted to stop the questionnaire going to pupils in their region to obtain more information on the census from the Government.

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 said: “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 have 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.

Councillor Ellie Bird, Edinburgh’s Young People’s Champion, said: “The health and wellbeing census is the rights based approach in action. It demonstrates our fundamental belief in the rights of Edinburgh’s children and young people and our commitment to ensuring that they are all healthy, well, and supported.

“Questions asked in the survey cover a variety of topics – food and nutrition, sleep, relationships, sexual health and (crucially) consent, bullying, substance use, physical activity as well as social media use and mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

“Surveys like this census are not new, and the information gathered will continue to support schools, the local authority and the Scottish Government to plan and inform policies based on the needs and experiences of the population they serve.”

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