A third of teachers feel unprepared to cover new statutory lessons on periods, a new study suggests.
Here's what you need to know about how schools can support pupils living with period poverty.
Setting up 'health hubs'
Sarah Carr, PSHE lead for the NEAT multi-academy trust, which covers four primaries and a secondary in an area of social disadvantage, has set up health hubs in all five schools with the help of charity Plan International. The hubs give out fresh leggings and tights, as well as free sanitary products. Ms Carr said part of supporting pupils living in period poverty is realising the level of need in pupils’ homes.
“Girls will ask for products for their whole families,” she said. “We’ve had young boys come in and ask for products for their mums.”
Exclusive: Third of teachers unprepared to talk periods
Nicola Bristow, who leads on Plan’s “Let’s Talk. Period” campaign, said: “It’s about understanding when people need to take more than a week’s supply.”
In schools where there is a lack of funding for period products, Ms Carr recommended using existing support from the local community, for example asking for donations from hospitals or church groups.
Tackling 'triggers' for period poverty
Ms Carr said that poor attendance can be a symptom of period poverty, especially for disadvantaged pupils. When girls are consistently absent each month, this may be because they cannot afford sanitary products.
As with holiday hunger, schools also need to consider how to support pupils over the summer.
Getting the backing of SLT
Senior leaders need to fully support education on periods. Schools should run assemblies and talks on menstruation consistently, with the PSHE lead driving the programme.
“It’s about chipping away at this, not having a one-off session,” Ms Carr said.
Create teacher ‘ambassadors’, and give pupils a voice
In Ms Carr’s work with schools, she has appointed both teachers and pupils as period ambassadors. “Students can go to them for advice and support during the day,” she said.
She added that it was important to have trusted figures within school who lead on the issue, as pupils can be unwilling to seek help because of pride.
There are designated staff members that students can go to for products, and she has arranged school assemblies and talks from school nurses to educate pupils on menstruation.
But pupil voice is important, too: “It’s about listening to the pupils themselves, as sometimes they have the best ideas,” Ms Bristow said.
It’s not all about biology
Ms Bristow said that while free sanitary products help pupils in tackling period poverty, “quality education” is essential.
Referring to research from Plan International published in May, where it was revealed one in five girls had been bullied over their periods, she said it was important to “not just share the biology, but to share the issues around it.”
“The conversation needs to be brought into the open so people know where and who to get support from.”
Ms Carr said discussions need to consider the implications of period poverty for girls’ mental health, and assuage the discomfort they felt about menstruation.
Don’t make assumptions about who is affected
“Even in more affluent schools period poverty still might need to be discussed – pupils might want to be entrepreneurial and help another school in need,” Ms Carr said.
“Some of the pupils who struggle with this are also not who you would expect as a class teacher. If there are issues at home, that information is often only shared on a need-to-know basis.”