Free period products: Six in 10 schools yet to sign up

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Only 40 per cent of eligible schools have signed up to the government’s free period products initiative, sparking fears about the on-going impact of period poverty.

Last year, the Department for Education (DfE) agreed to fund the provision of free sanitary products for primary and secondary schools and further education colleges.

The opt-in scheme rolled out in January this year, with the DfE publishing implementation guidance for schools (DfE, 2020). However, take-up has stalled with six in 10 schools failing to claim the free period products. There are fears that schools which have not signed up by December will lose access to the funding.

The issue was first brought to national attention three years ago by student Amika George and her #freeperiods campaign, which highlighted the fact that more than 137,000 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty.

Period poverty is the term used to describe the inability to afford or access sanitary products. Menstrual products cost women £13 a month and 40 per cent of UK girls say they have used toilet roll because they cannot afford period products. Furthermore, one in seven girls struggle to afford sanitary wear and one in 10 are unable to pay for these essential products, according to 2017 research from charity Plan International UK (SecEd, 2019).

Campaigners are concerned that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with three in 10 girls struggling to access period products during the lockdown (Plan, 2020).

As such, Ms George’s Free Periods campaign and the Red Box Project – a not-for-profit organisation which places boxes of period products in schools – have launched a “Period Revolution” campaign, calling on young people and parents to take action and get schools to sign up.

The campaign is providing a toolkit of resources that “Period Revolutionaries” can deploy, including email templates, posters and flyers. This is available via the Free Periods website.

Gemma Abbott, director of Free Periods and coordinator for the Red Box Project, said: “We know that the scheme’s roll-out has been greatly affected by the Covid-19 crisis. Schools have faced extraordinary upheaval, so it’s not surprising that many are still to sign up.

“But now their doors have re-opened, we want them to know the funding is available and that it can make a significant difference to their students’ health and wellbeing – even those who they think might not need it. We’re already in the deepest recession since records began and life is going to become even more precarious for many households in the months ahead, which will result in increasing numbers of young people being unable to access the period supplies they need.

Ms George added: “We need every school to sign up urgently. Everyone deserves to be in lessons without the choking fear of worrying if they’ve leaked onto their uniform. So, please ask your school to sign up for products. If not for you, for someone else in school, because you may never know who’s struggling month on month to afford a packet of tampons. It’s easy and free – just one call is all that’s needed.

“We urge teachers to be equally proactive and get conversations started about what products students need, no matter how awkward or embarrassing. The taboo around periods is still so embedded, so students may not be vocal about not being able to access pads or tampons, but the pandemic has led to drastic changes in household incomes for many families, so the government scheme is now more critical than ever before.”

The DfE’s guidance states: “All learners in schools and 16 to 19 organisations should be able to access period products if they need them. This may include, for example, where learners have forgotten their products, cannot afford products, have come on their period unexpectedly.”

Rebecca Conn-Pearson, associate assistant principal for student engagement at Birches Head Academy in Stoke-on-Trent, said that signing up took just five minutes. She added: “During lockdown, we continued to provide products via a ‘grab and go’ system, and its significant uptake demonstrated how needed and appreciated the products are. Signing up to the government’s scheme is quick and simple. Placing my first order took no more than five minutes.”

The free products are being distributed by Phs Group (see further information), whose head of public sector Chris Brown wrote in SecEd earlier this year advising how schools can implement the scheme (Headteacher Update, 2020).

Popular approaches to distributing the free products in secondary schools include coin-free vending machines, while in primary schools products can be made available on request or can be distributed to older pupils.


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