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

Argyll and Bute councillors have decided young people from P5 to S6 across the whole local authority area won't take part in the Scottish Government survey.

Several other Scottish councils have already decided against issuing the voluntary census - which covers subjects such as sexual experiences, drinking and smoking – 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 chair, said: “I have had discussions with the leader [Councillor Robin Currie], who is of the same mind as me, that we should not participate in this survey.

“I have also spoken to the vice-chair of this committee [Councillor Keiron Green] and he, like myself, is minded that this is something we should not take part in.

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“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.”

Councillor 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 like 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.

Councillor Audrey Forrest (SNP, Dunoon) said: “I was interested in the Children’s Commissioner (Bruce Adamson) suggesting a pause.

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“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.”

Councillor Gordon Blair (SNP, Cowal) 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.

“I know young people are much more resilient because of the progress we have made in education and all the things we have talked about recently.

“If the rest of Scotland moves this on, it is something we should reflect on and have the opportunity to put it back to the Commissioner.”

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Jennifer Crocket, the council’s head of education, said: “The relationship between staff in schools and our young people is vital and we continually review their wellbeing.

"That is done through a number of ways – pupil interviews and formal conversations.

“But I think it would be fair to say that the type of questions posed by the survey, particularly to older children, would not form the basis of a day-to-day conversation.

“However, if the young person indicated anything of that nature, that is something a pupil support teacher would follow up.

“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.”

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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 insists it supports its health and wellbeing census, despite Argyll and Bute Council deciding that school pupils should not take part.

The authority's community services committee decided on Thursday, December 16 that youngsters in the area would not be involved in the census.

Concerns were raised over the nature of some of the questions targeted at older school pupils.

However, a Scottish Government spokesperson said that local authorities were able to decide which questions they asked as part of the survey.

The spokesperson said: “Health and wellbeing surveys like this one are not new and play a crucial role in ensuring children and young people have access to the help, advice and services they need.

“Whilst the Scottish Government has worked with stakeholders to design a set of questionnaires, it is for local authorities to determine which questions they actually ask.

"However, the Scottish Government fully supports administering of this important census.”

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