A fresh sex education row has broken out after a poll suggested many Scottish pupils think health and wellbeing lessons are a waste of time.

Research by parents’ organisation Connect indicates a majority of children and young people disagree that the classes are “interesting, relevant and useful” or have no clear opinion on their quality. 

The findings follow controversy over a school survey designed to quiz pupils as young as 14 and 15 about areas such as their experience of oral or anal sex.
One participant told Connect: “My 10-year-old finds health and wellbeing excruciatingly embarrassing and tells me that he ‘zones out’. The majority of kids in his class either giggle all the way through the awful ‘sex cartoons’ or switch off. It is not age appropriate at all.”

Health and wellbeing is one of eight key areas of learning covered under Curriculum for Excellence. It takes in a number of themes and topics, including sexual health and relationships, substance misuse and nutrition.

As part of Connect’s survey, which received 402 responses from 31 local authority areas, parents and carers asked children and young people for their answer to the following statement: “My child/young person finds their health and wellbeing education (or personal and social education in secondary schools) interesting, relevant and useful.” Twenty per cent of respondents said they disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 37% neither agreed nor disagreed.

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Connect’s figures come after David Paton, professor of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School, told The Herald that Scotland’s “one size fits all” approach to sex education meant many children were being given explicit information before they are ready for it.

The survey has drawn a critical response from the Scottish Conservatives. Meghan Gallacher, shadow minister for children and young people, said: “The SNP must urgently address the findings from Connect and go back to the drawing board when it comes to health and wellbeing in our schools.”

Respondents had a range of other concerns. Twenty-nine per cent did not feel children’s health and wellbeing were well supported by their school or nursery, with 13% saying they did not know if they were. 

When asked about children’s mental health, 33% of participants told Connect they did not feel there was good support at school or nursery. Seventeen per cent said they did not know. More than four in ten (43%) also revealed they did not feel family health and wellbeing were well supported by the school or nursery. Thirty-nine per cent agreed there was good support in this area and 18% did not know.

HeraldScotland: Professor David Paton previously told The Herald he had serious concerns about sex education in Scotland.Professor David Paton previously told The Herald he had serious concerns about sex education in Scotland.

Connect stressed it was particularly worrying that 67% of respondents were not asked for their ideas and experiences when Covid-19 recovery plans were being developed to boost children’s health and wellbeing.

Eileen Prior, executive director, said: “Throughout the pandemic, we ran several large-scale parent/carer surveys. 

“We reported the findings of these to national and local government and education organisations with a clear message that communication between home and school must be central to plans for recovery, to make sure the experiences of children were understood. We made clear – because parents said this was their priority – that the first step in recovery was to find out from parents and young people how young people were doing. The focus of recovery planning was to have been on children and young people’s health and wellbeing; we therefore simply cannot understand why parents have not been asked for their input.”

Ms Prior also said the survey findings showed there was much more schools could do to support the wellbeing of children and families. 

“Many do a great job, but more need to step up, with the training, funding and resources school staff need,” she added. “It is also clear that parents really want to share the knowledge and expertise that staff who deliver health and wellbeing education, so they can better support their children. In short, it is time to transform the delivery of health and wellbeing in schools.”

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people is an important part of our Covid-19 education recovery strategy, which was created with input from across the sector including young people and families. 

“Our guidance to education authorities and schools on continuity in learning and reducing risks in schools recognised the need to support pupils health and wellbeing and to engage and work in partnership with families. 

“While Curriculum for Excellence is not prescriptive, teachers can use a range of high-quality resources to engage effectively with pupils on this. 

“Teachers know their pupils best and decide the most effective way to deliver their lessons. The RSHP.scot resource helps empower teachers to deliver relevant and engaging, age and stage appropriate education on relationships, sexual health and parenthood.”