Parent group demands Nicola Sturgeon withdraw ‘inappropriate’ school sex survey

The head of Scotland’s largest parent group has demanded that Nicola Sturgeon’s Government withdraw an "inappropriate" health and wellbeing census for schools that asks 14-year-olds about their sexual experiences.

Eileen Prior, chief executive of Connect, a charity that works to engage parents and carers in children’s learning and school life, said the survey is "not fit for purpose".

She has written to Ms Sturgeon and Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Scottish Education Secretary, listing "serious concerns" about confidentiality and how the questions are worded.

The survey has triggered a backlash for asking secondary pupils in S4 and above about how much sexual experience they have had, ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse. Ms Prior’s letter asked: "Why would policy-makers need to know about oral sex?"

‘Very heteronormative slant’

She also criticised the census for its "very heteronormative slant" as it uses the terms "girlfriend" and "boyfriend", which are "outdated and inappropriate".

The controversial poll has united conservative family campaigners and Left-wing children’s rights advocates, with both groups fearing it may end up causing harm to the young people.

Ms Sturgeon has said the census was not mandatory for local authorities to use in school amid a wave of criticism about its content. However, she argued that it was better to face up to the pressures that teenagers face than ignore them.

Ms Prior’s letter questioned the confidentiality of the information provided by pupils, saying: "There is no statement to say exactly who will look at data and what the research purposes are specifically.

"Information gathered clearly makes children and young people identifiable at school, local authority or national level. There is no mention of how data will be stored (or) how access will be restricted or managed."

‘Deeply concerned’

She added: "We are deeply concerned that young people do not appear to have clear information about what is in the survey, what it is for, who is running the survey and how their data will be used, stored (and destroyed)."

It is understood the information commissioner is investigating data protection concerns about the census, with at least 10 councils unilaterally deciding to withdraw or review it.

Ms Prior said other concerns include the lack of advice for parents and carers to support pupils when answering questions that could be "deeply personal and potentially very upsetting for vulnerable children and young people".

She also singled out sections of the survey that she deemed "totally unacceptable", including questions asking the children whether they lost their temper or were "often accused of lying or cheating".

‘We can’t bury our heads in the sand’

Pressed on the census at First Minister’s Questions last month, Ms Sturgeon said: "Either we can bury our heads in the sand and pretend that young people are not exposed to the issues or the pressures that we know they are exposed to.

"Or we can seek to properly understand the reality that young people face and provide them with the guidance, the advice and the services they need to make safe, healthy and positive decisions. I choose the latter."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "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/carers and children, and young people, are informed of how their data will be used in advance of any taking part in the census and they can decide to opt out if they wish."

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