THE First Minister refused to say whether she would answer a controversial school pupils' census where children are asked "intrusive" questions about sex.

Nicola Sturgeon spoke out as she insisted 24 out of Scotland's 32 local authorities have confirmed they will take part in the survey while insisting it is being used for "statistical and research purposes only".

Parents have raised questions about the content of the government's Health and Wellbeing Census, which asks pupils as young as 14 intimate questions on their sexual activity.

It comes after the Herald revealed eight of Scotland's 32 local authorities have refused to take part in the census amidst calls for a boycott over use of its explicit questions. Some 13 are reviewing its contents and another one, City of Edinburgh Council, is distributing it excluding questions "that we felt would present difficulties".

The Scottish Government-sanctioned census asks questions only meant to be filled out by children as young as 14 about their sexual experiences.

One question - aimed at pupils in S4 and S6 - says: “People have varying degrees of sexual experience. How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”

Multiple choice answers include “oral sex” and “vaginal or anal sex”.


It also asks how many people they have had sexual intercourse with in the past 12 months.

Meghan Gallacher, the Scottish Conservative children’s spokeswoman, asked the First Minister whether she would be comfortable answering the questions posed in the survey, while raising issues that the anonymous census was not strictly confidential at all.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Well firstly 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."

The Herald on Sunday revealed that only the census is not totally confidential.

If local authority analysts see any answers of concern they can take action to help kids concerned and the identity of the children will be sought.

Privacy information attached states: "If analysts within your local authority see anything in the answers provided by some children and young people that raises some concerns, they may need to do something to help these individuals.

"This would be the only time that the identity of individual children and young people would be sought by identifying these individuals from a separate database that holds the names of children and young people together with their Scottish Candidate Number, and for which the local authority also has access too.


"This should not happen very often so it is highly unlikely that anyone will contact children, young people or their families."

The census is to be given to kids in P5, 6 and 7 but the younger groups' questions are targeted on matters such as physical activity, mental health, sleep patterns, social media, body image, and bullying. It also quizzes them on how easy it is to talk to family members about things that bother them and whether their parents really care about their education.

Ms Sturgeon went on: "This is a voluntary survey it is only for as for S4 secondary, year four and upwards. Any parent can refuse to give consent and of course, any young person can opt not to take part in the survey or to skip particular questions in the survey. It is not mandatory.

"But I come back to the fundamental point. We cannnot choose to pretend that young people of this age group do not have it the experiences that the member has narrated or is not exposed online, in the digital world we live in and we can choose to pretend that young people, girls, sometimes in particular, are not subjected to harassment and pressure around sexual matters.

"We can refuse to ask the questions so that we don't know the answers, or we can get the answers that then allows us to better support young people to provide the advice and the information and the guidance to young people that supports and enables them to make positive healthy choices for the future. I do choose the latter and I would ask the Conservatives seriously and others, yes, to engage in any legitimate concerns around these matters.

"But don't whip up concern on the part of parents for completely unnecessary reasons and let us all focus on what really matters, supporting our young people to make healthy choices in their own lives."

The Bishops Conference of Scotland has said it wants the census withdrawn for changes which “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”.

The eight councils that have refused to participate are West Lothian Council, Falkirk, East Lothian, Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, North Lanarkshire, Aberdeen and Highland.

The 13 councils that have said they are reviewing its content are Orkney, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, Shetland, Fife, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, Scottish Borders, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The ten local authorities that are distributing the census are Glasgow City, Perth and Kinross, Stirling, Angus, South Ayrshire, Moray, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire.

City of Edinburgh Council is distributing it having excluded questions "that we felt would present difficulties".

Ms Gallagher started the debate by asking the First Minister if the Scottish Government will withdraw the census "given reported concerns over school pupils being asked questions relating to sex relationships".

Ms Sturgeon 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 being asked of 14, 15 or 16 year olds. Next, the census is not mandatory neither for local authorities to use in full or for children, given that parents may or may not consent to their child taking part and pupils themselves can also, if they wish, 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. "