Nicola Sturgeon is facing calls from Scotland’s largest parents’ organisation to ditch a controversial survey asking teenagers about their sexual experiences.
The national health and wellbeing census, created by the Scottish Government, has been declared “not fit for purpose” by Eileen Prior, the chief executive of Connect.
The Guardian revealed Ms Prior has written to the first minister and Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, asking them to withdraw the survey “until it takes a children’s rights approach, which has clearly been missing”.
In particular, the boss of the parent’s organisation, raised concerns around pupils’ privacy and informed consent, including how the data will be used.
It comes after reports the anonymous questionnaire was not confidential, with young people asked to fill in their unique Scottish candidate number.
At least eight local authorities – including Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire – are understood to have refused to take part in the controversial survey.
Dundee, Fife and Perth and Kinross are among the councils who have chosen to distribute it.
Pupils quizzed on sexual experiences
Pupils as young as 14 will be asked questions around their sex lives, which features questions like “How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”
The subsequent multiple choice answers include ‘oral sex’ and ‘vaginal or anal sex’.
Asked about concerns around the survey during First Minister’s Questions last month, Ms Sturgeon said her government would not withdraw it.
She told MSPs that “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”.
The SNP leader confirmed 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 any results of the research or resulting statistics will not be made available in a form which identifies individual children and young people”.
Other subjects covered in the survey include body image, mental health, bullying and drugs.
Ms Prior also reaised concerns around the mental health questions which she says are “deeply personal and potentially very upsetting for vulnerable children and younger people”.
Offer to ‘opt out’
A Scottish Government spokesman told The Guardian: “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.
“If children and young people do take part, they can skip any question they don’t wish to answer or state that they would ‘prefer not to say’.
“Whilst the Scottish Government has worked with stakeholders to design a set of questionnaires, it is for local authorities to determine which questions they ask.”