Edinburgh councillors urged to call a halt to controversial pupil sex survey

An “inappropriate” school survey that would ask Edinburgh pupils as young as 14 about their personal sexual experiences should be halted, a councillor has said.

Edinburgh City Council has been asked by the Scottish Government for its schools to take part in the national Health and Wellbeing Census, an online questionnaire for children in P5 to S6.

According to the Government, it will help local authorities to “identify and drive forward local improvements and monitor the results of any changes made” to the health and wellbeing of young people.

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But concerns have been raised about some of the questions about sex and relationships that will be put to children in their early teens.

The Scottish government wants councils to ask school pupils intimate questions about sex (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The survey that will go to to students in S4 and above, who could be as young as 14, includes questions such as ‘how much, if any, sexual experience have you had?’, and asks pupils about the first time they had sex.

It also questions youngsters’ experiences of ‘oral sex’, different sexual practices and the use of different contraceptives.

Conservative councillor Callum Laidlaw said a “significant number” of parents and parent councils are worried about the questionnaire.

He said: “We have health and wellbeing in the classroom already so it’s not necessarily about that, it’s about why you want to ask individual children those sorts of questions.

“It’s not just the questions around types of sex, it’s also ‘do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?’. It’s asking very personal questions that will put a lot of young people potentially in a difficult position, they will feel awkward.

“From the questions I know are going to be asked by other local authorities and will in theory be asked in Edinburgh, I personally think some of them are inappropriate.”

The survey will be completed by pupils 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.

Councillor Laidlaw added: “The sort of questions that are being asked around sexual activity and relationships, I think they’re very legitimate concerns that many parents and indeed the Children and Young Person’s Commissioner for Scotland have had.

“They’re being asked to be very specific about sexual experience, about their relationships and the census is using their candidate number; it’s still a little bit unclear to me as to how anonymous this is and quite when there would be an intervention, which it’s stated there would be if there’s something of concern – what is ‘of concern’ and how is that being determined in the context of the census? That is unclear to me and asking young people these sorts of questions in a classroom environment raises all sorts of concerns about how young people react to each other and the impact on bullying that this could have.

“At this stage, I and others are unconvinced that the supposed benefits of this outweigh the clear intrusion into private life and possibility of causing serious upset to young people in the classroom and also putting teachers in quite a tricky position as well.”

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