Bishops call on Government to withdraw sex census sent to schools

Scottish Government Health and Wellbeing Survey asks youngsters about their sexual relationships and contraception.

Bishops call on Government to withdraw  sex census sent to schools iStock
Bishops want adaptations made to Scottish Government health and wellbeing census.

Scotland’s Catholic bishops are calling on the Scottish Government to withdraw a new Scottish Government questionnaire that asks school pupils about their sexual experiences.

They want adaptations to be made to the Health and Wellbeing Census, which will ask youngsters as young as 14 for information about their sexual relationships and contraception, as well as their drinking, drug and smoking habits.

Eight councils have already opted to remove the census, and 12 are reviewing its contents, according to the Scottish Conservatives.

The Bishops Conference of Scotland now says it wants the survey withdrawn for adaptations, saying that “would allow concerns raised by the Scottish Catholic Education Service regarding the terminology of the questions and the process to ensure that parents are able to give informed consent to be addressed”.

A spokesperson for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said: “Scotland’s Catholic Bishops share the concerns of many parents about the explicit nature of some questions which young people are being asked in this survey.  

“Responses from the Scottish Government to the Scottish Catholic Education Service have failed to address legitimate concerns regarding the terminology of the questions and the process to ensure that parents are able to give informed consent. We ask that this survey be withdrawn to allow for adaptations to be made.

“Failure to respond to these concerns will demonstrate not only a disregard for the rights of parents but may risk re-traumatising some young people who might have suffered from harmful sexual encounters.”

West Lothian Council refused to issue the survey in its schools after a review of the questions “brought up significant concerns”, while parents’ group UFT Scotland said the “desire to force kids into growing up too quickly” was “puzzling”.

Fife councillors also paused the imminent rollout of the survey pending further scrutiny from the council’s education and children services sub-committee, amid reservations about the “controversial and inappropriate” nature of some of the questions posed

One question – for pupils in S4 and S6 – probes people’s varying degrees of sexual experience, with multiple choice answers including “oral sex” and “vaginal or anal sex”.

Others quiz teenagers on contraception methods and what age they were when they had sex for the first time.

The Scottish Conservatives want the Scottish Government to withdraw the survey and remove the “inappropriate” questions.

Meghan Gallacher, Scottish Conservative shadow minister for children and young people, said: “Whatever its original intentions were, it’s clear that this census is not fit for purpose. 

“Parents have raised concerns about privacy and the nature of the personal information being gathered by the state. 

“A number of questions are overly intrusive and inappropriate for children to answer. Adults would be uncomfortable answering them, so it’s difficult to grasp why anyone thought they were suitable for younger people. 

“In any case, it’s questionable if a mass survey should be used to gather this kind of sensitive information – or if it’s even likely to be taken seriously by most pupils. 

“The SNP Government should withdraw this controversial survey and go back to the drawing board.”