POLITICIANS have defended a controversial Scottish sex and relationships questionnaire for school pupils saying the results emphasise how vital a tool it is in providing services for young people.

New Scottish Government data shows only half of local authorities pressed ahead with the health and wellbeing survey following pushback over the explicit nature of some of the questions.

Others pulled the sections on sexual health and relationships in order to placate furious parents.

Glasgow City Council will publish its own responses from the census today, making it the first of 16 participating local authorities to do so, and said it hopes parental fears will be allayed now the results are public.

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Councillor Christina Cannon, the council's Convener for Education, Communities and Equalities, said: "I think the reason there was a lot of scaremongering was largely based on conspiracy theories and the idea we were asking really inappropriate questions for no reason whatsoever and that clearly wasn't the intention of the Scottish Government and it certainly wasn't the intention of the council either.

"The pushback was so fixated on the questions on sexual health but you would have thought it was a survey only on sexual health and it wasn't - it was about a range of topics and themes."

While Glasgow City Council has carried out a health and wellbeing survey in some form since 2006, last year was the first that the Scottish Government organised a Scotland-wide survey.

In previous years the census of Glasgow schools has been carried out by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the GHSCP health improvement team.

Data produced from Scotland's largest council area showed that around 51 per cent of pupils completed the 2022 survey, some 23,323 out of a potential 45,522 P5 to S6 pupils.

Ms Cannon added: "And that's a shame because now anybody who has not been allowed to take part in the survey has not been able to give us information on these other topics that is vital for shaping public health responses.

"We know that the poverty issues in Glasgow are stark but we need data to know how bad that is.

"Hopefully once people see the survey published online they will realise that some of the stuff they were reading about was not true.

"This is the issue when people spread misinformation about surveys or boycott surveys, we don't get complete information and an exact picture that we need and are looking for."

Pupils were able to fill in the survey only with parental permission and could drop out at any time during the census, which asked about topics ranging from relationships to alcohol and drug taking, aspirations for the future, life at home, and their physical health.

The information is used to understand the needs of children and young people, give a picture of emerging trends such as cyber bullying and vaping, and to help shape future policy.


In Glasgow, only one in ten senior pupils in S4 to S6 said they are sexually active but one in four reported having used their own money for gambling in the past month.

One of the most stark figures to emerge from the Glasgow study was that 27% of pupils reported going to school or bed hungry "some of the time" while a further nine per cent said they went to school or bed hungry "most or all" of the time.

Glasgow City Council argues that gathering information such as this is necessary in directing resources to where they are most needed and had stood firm in using the census even when other local authorities began to drop out.

Ms Cannon added: "There's lots of work going on to reduce child poverty but this is why surveys like this are so important, and it's important to hear it from children and young people themselves then match that up to data sets to see where targeted responses should be going."

The survey, which has been carried out in Glasgow in some form every three years since 2006, shows the prevalence of issues such as cyber bullying and the use of e-cigarettes and disposable vapes.

It also asked about future aspirations and found nearly 50% of pupils report they expect to go on to university while 95% said they felt their parents or carers "really cared" about their education.

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Hyndland Secondary pupils Josh Taylor and Georgie McCallum, with Charlotte Walker and Bessie Russell, all in S5 and S6, spoke to The Herald about their experience of the survey.

The teenagers filled in the questionnaire in class and said they could have been better prepared for some of the more sensitive questions around sexual health.

Georgie, 16, said: "Some of the questions were quire personal but we were assured it would all be kept anonymous.

"The school sent out an email to our parents to let them know about the questionnaire but we weren't given as much detailed information.

"Some of the questions came as a bit of a shock and I think that could have been resolved if we had better information ourselves."

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Josh, 17, said: "People maybe weren't expecting the questions to be so personal and that could maybe have caused them to have a bit of a shocked reaction. I think we could have been eased into the questions a bit more and had more information about what we were going to be asked.

"Some questions were a bit too on the nose with how they were phrased.

"Personally I was a bit ambivalent about it but there was no pressure to fill it in and we understand that the results are used to make opportunities and experiences better for us."

Scotland-wide, the aggregated results show more than one in 10 senior pupils report that they have had penetrative sex while half did not use a condom on the most recent occasion.

Boys were more likely than girls to agree they were happy at school while girls felt under more pressure to complete their schoolwork.

Mental health and wellbeing was also reported to be lower than that for boys while fewer than a third of girls reported being "happy with my body" compared to 55% of boys.

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Across Scotland and in Glasgow, around a third of pupils said they had experienced bullying in the past year.

Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: "This census provides local authorities with a wide range of valuable and important information about children and young people’s experiences of their health and wellbeing in Scotland.

"It is my hope that participating local authorities – like Glasgow – can now use this important data to respond to the needs of children, young people and families locally."