Labour has accused education secretary Justine Greening of being “harsh” on schools amid calls for her to do more to tackle period poverty.
Her comments were made during a parliamentary exchange today in which shadow equalities minister Paula Sherriff told MPs that schoolgirls were forced to use toilet paper and socks “stuffed into their underwear because families can't afford sanitary protection due to poverty pay and welfare cuts”.
She urged Ms Greening to match Labour's commitment to put aside funding to tackle period poverty to ensure girls do not miss school because of menstruation.
Ms Greening said: “Schools already have discretion over how they can use their funding – if they want to make sanitary products available to disadvantaged students then they are free to do so.”
She said the issue “goes far wider than the roles of schools”, and that it was about ensuring parents understand the need to “play their role in educating their own children” and their duty to make sure their children “are attending school and complying with the law to do so”.
Catherine West, Hornsey and Wood Green's Labour MP, said: “I find her attitude a little harsh around the period question and wonder whether she will review it in the light of today's debate, because I think it does need a second look.
“I think her approach is a little harsh in terms of schools having to stump up money for sanitary pads.
“Secondly, blaming parents because periods are just one of those things – you can't blame parents for periods.”
Ms Greening responded: “I think this is an important area, clearly, but in the end, I think we have to recognise that we need to allow schools some discretion with how they want to deal with this alongside a range of other specific issues that the pupils that they teach may face.
“I have to say I don't agree with her actually – I do think parents have a responsibility to play their role in making sure children understand how they will approach adult life.”