Exclusive: Third of teachers unprepared to talk periods

Teachers want more support on periods – with 38 per cent saying pupils have come to them in distress about menstruation

Catherine Lough

Periods are not shameful so let's talk about them in school

Nearly a third of teachers – 29 per cent – feel unprepared to teach lessons on menstruation, which will be part of the compulsory relationships and sex education (RSE) from September 2020, a study has found.

In a representative poll of 642 Year 6 and secondary teachers commissioned by the charity Plan International, a further one in 10 teachers – 9 per cent – said they didn't know, when asked, if they felt prepared to cover menstruation with pupils.

When asked what would enable them to help pupils in managing their periods, four in 10 teachers – 42 per cent – said they needed supportive educational resources.

Related: How to educate pupils on periods

News: Free sanitary products to be offered in primary schools

Background: Bullying over periods is rife in schools, study finds

Plan International says there needs to be more effective education about menstruation if the problem of period poverty – where pupils can sometimes miss school because of a lack of menstrual products – is to be tackled effectively.

Nicola Bristow, community and grants coordinator for Plan’s “Let’s talk. Period” campaign, said there is a “toxic trio” when it comes to period poverty – pupils are not only disadvantaged through being unable to access products, but also through a lack of quality education and the stigma that can be associated with periods.

Tackling period poverty

“We’re ensuring products are available, but we also need to combat stigma, shame and taboos,” she said.

Sarah Carr, PSHE lead for the NEAT multi-academy trust, which covers four primaries and a secondary in a disadvantaged area, has been working to combat period poverty in schools and said the issue can have a serious impact on attendance.

“Girls would say, ‘I couldn’t come in because I’d come on’ – something they’d deem as quite expensive meant they weren’t coming to school,” she said.

Other findings from the report include:

  • Nearly four in 10 – 38 per cent – of teachers said pupils had come to them in distress because of their periods.
  • The most common reason for pupils being distressed was a lack of sanitary products (49 per cent).
  • Over a third of teachers – 36 per cent – said they needed professional training on how to talk to boys about periods.
  • And a third – 33 per cent – said they needed training around tackling stigma and taboos around periods.
  • Only half of teachers – 52 per cent – said they thought their school supported students adequately in managing their periods.
  • Less than half – 46 per cent – of teachers thought their school had a suitable toilet break policy. Teachers also reported that 39 per cent of children who came to them in distress over their periods reported not being allowed to take a toilet break as the reason for this.

In its spring statement, the government announced that free period products would be available in schools in January or February of next year.


Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

Latest stories

Super-curricular activities: are you offering them?

Is your school offering super-curricular activities?

Students need more than qualifications to get a place at a top university - and super-curricular activities are giving their applications that boost. But how do they work in practice?
Kate Parker 24 Sep 2021