A call from Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner to pause the roll-out of a controversial survey, which asks children as young as 14 about their sexual experiences, has been ignored by the Scottish Government.
Bruce Adamson said he was concerned that the Health and Wellbeing Census, which also asks teens about drug use and alcohol consumption, did not respect children’s right to privacy.
Despite being billed as confidential, individual pupils’ responses could be identified as they are required to enter their unique candidate number if completing the survey.
Adamson said that any survey conducted in schools “needs to be administered using an approach that respects young people’s rights including their right to privacy and right to give informed consent”, but that this one did not fit that criteria.
He said: “Young people should have their rights clearly communicated to them in advance, including the key information that their participation is not compulsory.
“Young people and their families need to be involved in the design and delivery of such information gathering. It is important that teachers know how to manage any issues that may arise as a result of wellbeing questions being asked in school.
“A number of local authorities have also raised concerns which calls into question the effectiveness of this method of processing the survey. The Scottish Government should pause the rolling out of this survey until it can address the concerns raised and ensure a rights compliant process.”
Refusal to answer
However, ministers have rejected the calls, with a Scottish Government spokesman claiming it would be “irresponsible to withdraw a census which focusses on children and young people’s health and wellbeing, particularly during the course of a pandemic”.
During First Minister’s Questions, Conservative MSP Meghan Gallacher asked Nicola Sturgeon if she would be comfortable filling in the survey herself. The First Minister refused to answer.
She told Gallacher not to “whip up concern on the part of parents for completely unnecessary reasons” and claimed the survey would help support “young people to make healthy choices in their own lives”.
The census was criticised by The Christian Institute earlier this week, with Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs, calling it “creepy, intrusive and highly inappropriate”.
He said: “A lot of parents are going to be shocked at the idea of their kid’s school serving them up a detailed list of adult sexual activities and asking them which ones they’ve engaged in.”
He added: “If a teacher sat down with a fourteen-year-old pupil and asked them these questions to their face, the parent would be calling the police accusing him of being a sex offender. What were officials thinking when they signed off on schools dishing this out to pupils?”
It is not compulsory for pupils to take part in the survey, which also includes questions such as “How often do you enjoy being with the people you live with?” and “How often do you and the people you live with usually have meals together?”