A Perth and Kinross councilor has spoken of his surprise that he and his fellow representatives were prevented from debating a controversial poll before it was sent out to local pupils.
Last year, Scotland’s Children and Young People Commissioner called for the Scottish Government’s health and wellbeing survey to be postponed.
The survey, issued to P5-S6 pupils, asks S4-S6 pupils explicit questions about their sexual experience and each year group’s survey can now be viewed online.
Some local authorities took the matter to councilors for discussion, some chose not to issue the survey and others chose to delete some questions.
In Perth and Kinross, the polls were cast in full and councilors were not given a chance to debate the issue.
Perth and Kinross schools began sending the survey to students last year and will continue to do so throughout this school year.
PKC has said that each survey is “appropriate for the students’ school stage” and that no questions about sexual relationships are asked of primary school students.
Parents/caregivers are being informed in advance with the option for them and their children to opt out.
PKC has told parents/carers: “No one but a small team of analysts and IT support staff within your local authority will see your child’s responses. These staff are trained to keep data secure, confidential, and anonymous.”
However, Carse of Gowrie Councilor Alasdair Bailey believes it is “misleading” to say the polls are anonymous when pupils are asked to give their Scottish candidate number.
In December, the children’s commissioner said a number of concerns had been raised by local authorities and called on the Scottish government to halt implementation “until it can address the concerns raised and ensure a rights-compliant process”.
The commissioner said: “Any survey conducted in schools must be administered using an approach that respects the rights of young people, including their right to privacy and the right to give informed consent.
“We are concerned that the survey will collect the student’s Scottish candidate number and young people should be aware that this may allow them to be identified. “
This week Cllr Bailey was contacted by concerned parents.
The Labor councilor said: “I am genuinely concerned that this poll asks for information that a government has no right to know and that the government will retain the ability to link responses to individual people via the Scottish candidate number.
“It is a fundamental violation of our children’s right to a private life.
“Scotland’s Children and Young People Commissioner asked for this survey to be postponed while their own concerns were addressed, but the Scottish Government and Perth and Kinross Council have gone ahead regardless.
“I am therefore surprised that the Conservative administration in Perth and Kinross has not brought this matter to the House for a full and proper debate.
“Her colleagues at Holyrood protested this and other councils have used their powers to remove some of the more sensitive questions or refuse to allow children to complete the survey.”
The Palestinian Authority asked Perth and Kinross Council and Conservative Councilor Caroline Shiers, coordinator of lifelong learning, to respond to Cllr Bailey’s comments.
A PKC spokesperson responded: “All Scottish councils, including Perth and Kinross, have been asked to take part in the census and make the survey available to P5-S6 pupils during the current school year.
“The survey covers a variety of themes and topics, assigned appropriately by school stage.
“Councils have the option to add or remove questions from the survey if they wish; Perth and Kinross City Council is using the survey provided to councils by the Scottish Government.
“In terms of students, schools are not handing out the questions in advance, as this can potentially influence young people in the opinions they express.
“They can skip sections of the quiz where necessary and will also be directed to questions that are not relevant to them.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.