THE Scottish Government will not withdraw a questionnaire which has attracted controversy for asking young people about their sexual experiences, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister was asked about the Health and Wellbeing Census 2021, which asks schoolchildren aged 14-16 questions about their sexual activity, schoolwork, and experiences with drink and drugs among other things.

Questions about more adult topics such as sex and drugs are directed only at pupils in S4 and above, while questions on alcohol and tobacco are given to those in S2 and above.

Speaking at FMQs, Scottish Tory MSP Meghan Gallacher asked the First Minister if “the Scottish Government will withdraw the health and wellbeing census 2021 given reported concerns over school pupils being asked questions relating to sex and relationships”.

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“Firstly, no, we won't,” Nicola Sturgeon responded, going on to highlight that the controversial census is not mandatory for local authorities to use, parents to consent to, or for children to answer.

So far, the First Minister said, 24 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities have confirmed they will take part in the survey “which of course also features extremely important questions about people's experiences of the pressures of schoolwork, bullying and mental health mapping”.

The SNP leader added: “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.

“I choose the latter.”

Gallacher, who was elected for the Tories on the Central Scotland list in May, said she had been contacted by parents concerned about some of the “explicit” questions.

The Conservative listed these “explicit” references which included mention of “kissing”, “intimate touching on top of clothes”, “touching intimately underneath clothes”, “oral sex, vaginal, or anal sex”.

She further raised reports which highlighted the fact that, should the questionnaires raise any serious safeguarding concerns, there is a process by which respondents may be identified and offered aid. The Tory claimed this undermined the “anonymous” nature of the survey.

Sturgeon responded: “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.

“Let me repeat what I said earlier on. This is a voluntary survey ... 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 a particular question in the survey. It is not mandatory.

“But come back to the fundamental point. We can choose to pretend that young people of this age group do not have the experiences that the member has narrated or is not exposed online in the digital world we live in.

“We can choose to pretend it but young people, girls sometimes in particular, are not subjected to harassment and pressure around sexual matters. We can do that. 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.”

She added: “I would ask the Conservatives seriously [not to] put up concern on the part of parents for completely unnecessary reasons. Let us all focus on what really matters: supporting our young people to make healthy choices in their own lives.”