Addressing School-based Period Poverty

I want to write detail on the announcement this morning from DfE and phs of the plan to address school-age period poverty by providing free period products in every school in England.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/free-sanitary-products-in-all-primary-schools

Except that the content of the press release is all I have. I have scoured the usual main news feeds and only picked up rehashed versions of the same story, all built on the press release and an older DfE feed:

https://www.fenews.co.uk/fevoices/40720-government-rolls-out-scheme-to-introduce-free-period-products-into-all-state-schools-and-colleges-in-england

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/jan/18/free-period-products-to-be-available-in-schools-and-colleges-in-england

https://www.phs.co.uk/about-phs/period-equality-in-education/

What I am told is that we (schools) will receive an email on Monday inviting us to sign up for the scheme (as if we would say ‘no’ to an opportunity to provide what, on surface at least, appears to be a Universal Benefit).

How it will work if we don’t contract our sanitary disposal with phs I don’t know.

Whether it will actually be ‘Universal’ I don’t know.

How we will overcome anticipated resistance I don’t know either.

And, crucially, some sources are quoting some numbers that throw huge doubts on the scheme’s intended reach – an annual cost of less than £18 million and an uptake by 1.1 million ‘students’.

These are far, far too small to indicate ‘Universal’ uptake or access. There are around 720,000 pupils in each school year group in the UK; approximately 9 million ‘students’ in total in England’s schools. Half of them are girls and we might assume we need to make provision from Years 6 to 13 – leading to a total of at least 2.25 million children. How is the target of 1.1 million derived?

Are we about to see some screening and in a very well-meaning scheme some sort of block installed that becomes the next barrier to overcome? Is it actually going to be funded at the rate of free school meals in the schools, perhaps? Just under 20% of pupils in Year 3 and above are eligible nationally for FSM (only 4% in our school), and that equates to around the 1 million mark nationally.

So if this is how it works (the free part of provision), how will schools manage this? There is simply no way we are means testing children or holding period products in First Aid or the Office or in the teachers’ drawer and then applying a FSM test to distribution. Surely all schools will want to make access simple and possible or they will be working contrary to the whole idea of the scheme. What we will then be pushed to do is to provide, at school cost, free period products for all. It’s that, ‘at school cost’ bit that troubles me, as we will receive no funding top-up to do it (and what a wasteful money-go-round that would be anyway; give us money for us to give to a company the Government has selected to run the scheme).

I absolutely agree – period products ARE too expensive and VAT charging on them, even at the current 5% rate, is outrageous. The single most effective way to deliver a benefit though is to make it universally free at the point of access. Want to eradicate period poverty? Make access to period products free for all.

I’ll raise it with School Governors at the earliest opportunity (the Thursday after the invitation email arrives in school).

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