Schools urged to listen to pupils' views in period poverty roll-out

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

The views of students should be taken into account when schools decide how to distribute free period products, the government has said.

Schools can now order fully funded period products as part of the campaign to tackle period poverty.

From Monday, January 20, schools and colleges should have received an activation email from the government’s supplier, phs Group, allowing them to begin ordering products.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance for school leaders on how to access the free period products as well as a research summarising the views of young people.

The government has committed to funding period products for all state primary and secondary schools and colleges.

Menstrual wellbeing is also a component of the statutory health education curriculum that is coming into effect in September.

The #freeperiods campaign estimates that more than 137,700 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty. It highlights that 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.

However, the DfE guidance emphasises that free products should be available to all learners, not just those who cannot afford products, but those who have forgotten their products or who have had their period arrive unexpectedly.

The scheme works by giving each school an amount to spent by December 2020. This amount is based on 35 per cent of a school’s female cohort (this is predicted to be the average take-up rate and mirrors the take-up rate of a similar scheme in Scotland).

Products available include period pads, environmentally friendly period pads, reusable period pads, applicator tampons, non-applicator tampons and menstrual cups.

Schools are being encouraged to listen to their students when it comes to setting up the scheme. The DfE research (Elston & Hipkiss, 2020) involved learners aged nine to 19, asking them how they would prefer to access free period products.

It found that existing schemes often require learners to ask members of staff for products and that this was something some pupils were reluctant to do. The report adds: “Typically, participants preferred to access period products in toilet cubicles so that they could be accessed discretely without needing to ask someone else or be seen taking products by other people. However, participants also recognised that there was a potential for misuse should products be distributed in this way.”

Participants also felt that schools should communicate information about the period product scheme in a positive way to help tackle stigma and potential bullying.

Amike George, who launched the #freeperiods campaign three years ago, has welcomed this week’s official roll-out: “We have been waiting for this day for a long time! As a grassroots, student-led movement, Free Periods has been fighting for every single child in this country to be able to go to school without worrying about their next pad or tampon. For the first time in history, this scheme will ensure that becomes a reality.

“We ask that schools have open conversations with students about what they need and start signing up to the scheme – no child must miss out. Free products in schools will ensure that every child can learn and be their very best, without periods holding them back.”

David Taylor-Smith, CEO of phs Group, said: “We are ready for the first wave of demand. We encourage schools and colleges to look out for their activation email and make their first order so they can start offering free products as soon as possible.”

Via the activation email, schools and colleges will be able to order products for their organisation from the phs Group portal – a range of products will be available, including eco-friendly options.

Children and families minister Michelle Donelan said: “We know that it is not easy for everyone to access period products where and when they need them. This scheme will deal with those problems so young people can go about their daily lives without getting caught out if they have come on their period unexpectedly, forgotten to bring products with them or if they can’t afford the products they need.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: " The government is to be commended for listening to experts and extending the provision of free period products to primary as well as secondary schools. Even those pupils who do not suffer period poverty will benefit from free access to period products, breaking down stigma and ensuring no child is without protection during what can be a vulnerable time.

“We’d urge the government to monitor the new scheme closely, so that if take-up numbers are low initially, then more can be done to advertise the service, and to guarantee that every pupil can access a period product that meets their needs.”

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