When asked by MSP Megan Gallagher at First Minister’s Questions if the government would consider withdrawing the Health and Wellbeing Census 2021, which has raised concerns from parents over the explicit nature of some of the questions asked of teenagers about their sexual activity, Ms Sturgeon said it would not.
She said that so far, 24 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities had agreed to utilise the survey, which asks school pupils in S4 to S6 to give their views on a range of subjects from physical and mental health to bullying and the pressures of school work. The government has said it aims to help local authorities "improve services for children and families".
It is understood that eight of Scotland's 32 local authorities have refused to take part in the census, while Edinburgh Council is believed to have said it would distribute the survey, but without questions "that we felt would present difficulties".
However, one question asking student “how much, if any, sexual experience” they have had, with answers including "oral sex" and "vaginal or anal sex", has raised questions as to its suitability for youngsters.
In response to Ms Gallagher’s question, she said: “Firstly, no, we won't. But secondly, I want to make clear that the questions which have been the focus of much of the commentary around the survey, are been asked of 14, 15 or 16 year olds. Next, the census is not mandatory neither for local authorities to use in school or for children, given that parents may or may not consent to the child taking part – and pupils themselves can also if the wish to opt out of the survey.
"But all governments have a responsibility - and I think it's a serious responsibility – to ensure that public service delivery is informed by lived experience. We have two choices: 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 young people face and then provide them with the guidance, the advice and the services they need to make safe, healthy and positive decisions. And I choose the latter.”
Ms Gallagher also asked if the anonymity of students could be guaranteed, pointing out that youngsters have to enter their students candidate number to fill out the form.
She added: “First Minister, would you feel comfortable answering these questions? And can you reassure parliament today that should a young person complete these forms, they can not be identified?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “On the issue of confidentiality, 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 that any results of the research or resulting statistics will not be made available in a form which identifies individual children and young people.”