It’s high time Sheffield schools started talking more about periods, and thankfully there’s hope that a better job will be done in this important area in the coming years.
The coverage given to sex education and personal hygiene is currently below par in a lot of schools, partly for cultural reasons and also due to timetabling pressures.
I’m one of many teachers who have delivered lessons about sex education, covering all sorts of topics from the naming of body parts through to putting on a condom and bodily changes such as starting periods.
I can honestly say that these lessons are not the high point of my teaching career – I dreaded the build up to them, would get embarrassed and sometimes humiliated during the teaching of them and I really questioned whether I had done a good enough job after them.
The kids approached it as an embarrassing side show from other events in school, behaviour was poor and concentration levels low.
This was not down to my inabilities as a teacher because behaviour in my lessons is generally well managed, but the whole subject of sex education is embarrassing for the kids to handle.
They don’t want to be told how to use menstrual products from a teacher they see for 50 minutes a week and haven’t really had the chance to build up a relationship with.
No wonder pressure on the kids builds up and they can’t help themselves giggling. Of course they can’t; they’re nervous and want the lesson to be over as much as the teacher.
I’m not a specialist in delivering these important life lessons – far from it.
The timetable for these types of classes is often filled in from the pool of people available at the time and few teachers receive any training at all for teaching teens about the sexually transmitted diseases or teenage pregnancy.
We have to try and get this area of the curriculum more balanced, with skilled teachers who are committed to delivering these topics.
Schools can make a real difference if they get their approach right when tackling topics such as periods.
Unbelievably for a developed country such as ours, some teenage girls still say they have skipped school because they cannot access period products.
It’s quite scandalous that in 2019 we have girls struggling to get access to these products and as a result it is putting their education at risk because they are missing lessons around their period.
Society is slowly changing – and it’s good to see Sheffield Wednesday recently offering free sanitary products in their toilets.
But more needs to be done, talking about this naturally occurring issue within schools, normalising it and making sure everybody has access to the resources they need.
This week the government announced that it will be compulsory to teach about periods within schools by 2020 – but any school that has not been dealing with this important topic for at least two decades has simply not been keeping up to speed.
And it’s fine to make this covered by the law, but OFSTED need to have it on their list of priorities to make sure the lessons delivered are good and there are specialists in the classrooms.
Leading the way on period poverty is Scotland, where schools now make sure sanitary products are available free of charge for all their pupils.
That England is lagging behind in this area demonstrates yet another example of a two-tier society that is developing within the same United Kingdom and it’s surely time that we started to lead by example and make period poverty a thing of the past.
The role that schools can play in this mission is huge and goes well beyond providing complimentary products in bathrooms.
We need to normalise periods, break down the taboo and making it as easy to talk about as males shaving their faces.
That’s going to take a lot of commitment from teachers and pupils – and the government needs to throw more in than a simple addition to the curriculum.