Tampons, sanitary pads and other period products will be made freely available to all state schools and colleges in England starting next week, with the launch of a scheme funded by the Department for Education.
The scheme follows the government’s commitment last year to pay for sanitary products for primary and secondary schools, in an effort to tackle “period poverty”, which can cause girls from low-income families to missschool.
“We know that it is not easy for everyone to access period products where and when they need them. This scheme will deal with those problems so young people can go about their daily lives without getting caught out,” said Michelle Donelan, the children and families minister.
The DfE said the scheme was designed “to give pupils easy access to period products at school or college” as well as breaking down stigmas and raising awareness around menstruation.
Amika George, the founder of Free Periods who began campaigning to end period poverty in 2017, said: “We ask that schools have open conversations with students about what they need and start signing up to the scheme – no child must miss out.
“Free products in schools will ensure that every child can learn and be their very best, without periods holding them back.”
A recent survey found that 42% of 14- to 21-year-olds in the UK said they had used makeshift sanitary protection, with some saying they had used socks, other fabric or paper as emergency replacements.
Rosamund McNeil, the assistant general secretary of the National Education Union, said more than 137,000 pupils missed school in 2018 because of their period. “No girl in the UK should miss out on education because they can’t afford these essential products,” McNeil said.
The scheme is to cost up to £20m this year for an estimated 1.7 million students. From Monday, staff will be able to order products from a commercial supplier, PHS group, awarded the contract by the DfE after a tender last year.
The range available to more than 20,000 schools and colleges includes environmentally friendly pads and reusable products, the company said.
The government initially pledged to provide sanitary products to all state secondary schools and colleges in last year’s spring statement. But the coverage was extended after campaigners pointed out menstruation began for many girls during their time at primary school.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, applauded the government’s effort to extend provision to all schools.
“We’d urge the government to monitor the new scheme closely, so that if take-up numbers are low initially, then more can be done to advertise the service and to guarantee that every pupil can access a period product that meets their needs,” Whiteman said.
The scheme in England follows a groundbreaking 2018 decision by the Scottish government to fund free menstrual products to young people in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland, after a survey found that one in four struggled to obtain tampons or pads.
The Welsh government followed last year, offering free products to all state schools and colleges. NHS England also announced that women and girls in hospital would receive free sanitary products on request.