Free period products: 60 per cent of primary schools still to apply

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

The 10,000 primary and secondary schools yet to apply for free government-funded period products are being urged to act now.

Since its launch in January 2020, 41 per cent of primary schools (children can start menstruating as young as nine-years-old) and 76 per cent of secondary schools have made applications under the initiative.

The total value of the orders made so far is £2.8m, roughly half of the funding put up by the government for the scheme.

The scheme has been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic and schools will be able to make applications “at least throughout 2021”.

Period poverty is the term used to describe the inability to afford or access sanitary products.

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

Menstrual products cost women £13 a month and 40 per cent of UK girls say they have used toilet roll because they cannot afford them. Furthermore, one in 10 girls are unable to pay for these essential products, according to 2017 research from charity Plan International UK (for more, see 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. As such, last year Ms George’s Free Periods campaign and the Red Box Project – a not-for-profit organisation which places boxes of period products in schools – launched a “Period Revolution” campaign calling on young people and parents to lobby their schools to sign up to the government scheme (Headteacher Update, 2020).

Things have improved since, with around half of schools making at least one order (9,702 out of 20,327). Take-up is lowest among special schools (40 per cent), primary schools (41 per cent) and alternative provision (38 per cent), while 76 per cent of secondary schools have made an order, as have 79 per cent of post-16 settings.

Products available include period pads, environmentally friendly period pads, reusable period pads, applicator tampons, non-applicator tampons and menstrual cups. All schools making an order requested pads, while 36 per cent also ordered tampons. Secondary school orders averaged £796, while average spend for primary schools was £13 – reflecting the low numbers of pupils assumed to be menstruating.

The Department for Education is urging all schools to order free products while they still can: “As the scheme has now been extended, we invite all schools and colleges to order free products now – whether it’s their first or a repeat order. Deliveries are contactless and can be redirected to neighbouring schools in the event of closures.”

The free period products scheme is being delivered by Phs Group. Schools are given the option to order environmentally friendly or reusable products. Schools are not charged for the products or for delivery.

It comes after VAT on period products – which campaigners dubbed the tampon tax – was abolished from January 1.

Children and families minister Vicky Ford said: “No pupil should ever have to miss school because of their period. I want everyone to know this support is available. If you are a school or college leader, I urge you to please get in touch and order these products for your pupils so that together we can help end period inequality for good.”

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