Sex census of Scottish pupils looks like SNP’s failed named-person policy by the back door and parents should be concerned – John McLellan

Scottish government plans for a highly personal survey of school students reminds me of the old joke about the difference between education and training: “I would like my children to be properly educated abut sex, but I don’t want them trained.”

Thursday, 9th December 2021, 4:55 am
The Scottish government wants councils to ask school pupils intimate questions about sex (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The Scottish government wants councils to ask school pupils intimate questions about sex (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Better sex education is being bandied about as a justification for what, by any stretch of the imagination, are astoundingly intrusive and prying questions for S4-6 students in a health and well-being census which local authorities are expected to conduct in schools.

Children as young as 14 could be asked in a multiple-choice question whether they have had oral, vaginal and anal sex, not the kind of thing you’d expect to see discussed in the Evening News, but there is no point in being coy if the Scottish government thinks its fine to put this to 14-year-olds.

Understanding the sexual behaviour of adolescents is one thing, but an officially sanctioned behavioural survey for every pupil is another entirely. While there is supposed to be an opt out, if a council goes ahead then schools and teachers will come under pressure to gather the information which could compel students to participate.

Classrooms can be cruel environments and it doesn’t take much imagination to see the survey becoming a flashpoint for bullying behaviour, even for those not taking part.

It is still not clear why the Scottish government needs to ask S4-6 students whether they have indulged in oral or anal sex. What exactly are they going to do with the information? Show the kids how it’s done, like the scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life?

If it’s just to get an idea of the level of sexual experiences amongst Scottish teenagers then it can be done by a controlled academic survey, because giving children better information about the choices they face does not require every one of them to reveal what they have been up to in their quieter moments.

But as critics have pointed out, it looks like the SNP’s failed named-person policy by the back door, with candidate numbers used so problems can be identified and intervention triggered if necessary.

But what are the triggers and who decides? Parents won’t be allowed to see any data gathered so they might never know, and the only reassurance in the guidance is that “this should not happen very often”. Well, that’s OK then.

Questions for children as young as P6 include whether parents care about their education, which is a very leading question and open to wild misinterpretation, with some hysterical reaction claiming it could prevent the murder of small children like six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, as if completing a questionnaire would have saved him.

That the Scottish government has not published the proposed questions speaks volumes, leaving it to councils to decide how far to go, and ten Scottish authorities have already refused to cooperate.

Edinburgh Council says some questions “which would present difficulties” won’t be asked, but as councillors haven’t been told which ones, what chance have parents?

The Conservative group is calling for a proper report and open debate, but with SNP lapdogs and a self-serving Labour group in charge and a Green group whose members have already expressed enthusiasm for this intrusion while insulting people with concerns, parents should be on the alert.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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