Census participation rejected

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School pupils in Argyll and Bute will not take part in a national census on health and wellbeing after concerns were raised about some of the questions.

Councillors made the decision not to be involved in the Scottish Government’s survey, which is aimed at pupils from primary five to S6.

Questions to pupils from S4 upwards include subjects such as sexual experiences, drinking and smoking. Other local authorities have already decided against issuing the voluntary census to youngsters.

The decision for Argyll and Bute was made at a virtual meeting of the council’s community services committee on Thursday December 16.

Cowal Conservative Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, the committee’s chairperson, said: ‘All of this is incredibly intrusive and there are many ways of gathering information that can form policy and do not need this level of data-mining.

‘We also share major concerns about the confidentiality of all this, and it has left us very worried.’

Oban North and Lorn Independent Councillor Kieron Green added: ‘In theory I think the survey would be a useful tool for a variety of purposes, but looking at the more controversial questions, like alcohol and drugs, the survey cannot guarantee absolute anonymity.

‘Participants are asked for information such as their candidate number, although it states that it would be for research purposes. There are elements that give me significant worry.’

Councillors on the authority’s SNP group had a different opinion, suggesting that the council held fire until closer to the April 2022 deadline for responses.

Dunoon SNP Councillor Audrey Forrest said: ‘I was interested in the Children’s Commissioner (Bruce Adamson) suggesting a pause. Given that the main objections are around privacy and questions relating to 14- to 16-year-olds, I would be happier to pause while the Commissioner makes a decision.’

Cowal SNP Councillor Gordon Blair added: ‘We are two generations away from the current one. If this was handed to me when I was at school, I would have been embarrassed by having to take any census.

‘But we are in a different world now and you have to give the professionals the opportunity to reflect. To reject it out of hand might not be the best service we can provide for our young folk.’

Jennifer Crocket, the council’s head of education, said: ‘The survey is a means to an end – a blanket way to gather information, but we are able to have conversations using materials which are already the norm.

‘One or two of the local authorities who have opted out completely are working on their own variety, which they deem more appropriate.’

A vote then took place among the committee on whether to decline to take part in the survey, or to pause the process to seek clarity from the Commissioner.

Ten of the 14 members of the committee, two of whom are not councillors, voted in favour of not taking part.

The Scottish Government stated on its website: ‘As local authorities are required by law to plan for children’s services in their local area, they have a legal basis to ask children and young people about their lives and wellbeing to help them with this.

‘The individual data about children and young people is being collected by these local authorities for statistical and research purposes only for the performance of a task carried out for reasons of public interest.’