An Expert Overview of Updates to the Free Period Product Scheme for Schools and Colleges
In this blog, Rebecca Jennings, founder of RAISE (Raising Awareness in Sex Education), explores the latest updates to the DfE’s free period product scheme and explains how schools can help learners make the most of the scheme.
In 2020, the DfE launched a free period product scheme for schools that provides pupils and students with period products, when needed, in their place of study. Since the scheme’s launch, 99% of secondary schools and 96% of post-16 education settings have signed up to the scheme.
Despite such high figures, research indicates that pupils and students are still feeling the effects of period poverty in the UK. As a teacher of relationships, sex and health education, it’s apparent that the stigma around periods still very much exists. Pupils, particularly those in the primary setting, are still unsure of what’s available to them and how they can access period products through the DfE’s supplier; Personal Hygiene Services Ltd (phs Group).
As the organisation explains:
‘Independent research commissioned by phs found that more than a third of girls have missed school due to their period, averaging more than three days a term. Of these, more than one in ten were due to period inequality; 14% said they missed school as they had no access to period products while 11% said they simply could not afford them.’
With girls as young as seven years of age starting menstruation, it’s key that education providers are aware of the updates surrounding the period product scheme and how schools and post-16 education settings can use the scheme, along with understanding their responsibilities around period products in schools.
Updates to the period product scheme
All state-maintained schools and education settings (16-19) will have received an email in September 2023. The email includes funding allocations or a spend cap and is available on the phs portal for the coming academic year. The scheme has been extended until at least July 2024 as part of the government’s drive to end period poverty and support disadvantaged pupils. If your setting has not received this email, or it’s been mislaid, the advice is to check ‘admin@’ and ‘enquiries@’ accounts and spam. For further information or support on details for your setting, please contact phs on 01827 255500.
When ordering products, you should consider the specific needs, characteristics, and preferences of all pupils and students.
The scheme is available to all:
- state-maintained primary schools with year-5 pupils and above
- state-maintained secondary schools
- state-maintained special schools and non-maintained special schools
- alternative provisions, including pupil referral units, with pupils or students in year 5 and above
It’s also available for DfE-funded 16-to-19 education organisations across England that receive 16-to-19 funding allocations from the DfE or the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), including, but not limited to:
- further education (FE) and sixth form colleges
- state-maintained school and academy sixth forms
- 16-to-19 academies
- higher education (HE) institutions delivering 16-to-19 provision
- independent learning providers (ILPs)
- special post-16 institutions (SPIs)
Women aged 19 or over are only eligible for support if they:
- are continuing a study programme they began aged 16-to-18 (‘19+ continuers’)
- have an education, health and care plan
The scheme does not cover:
- students on HE qualifications
- staff, including supply staff, volunteers and contractors
How schools can utilise the scheme
Every setting is unique, as is each pupil and student. It’s therefore important that the full range of period products is made available based on the preferences of pupils. It’s important to consider the needs, ages, abilities, and religious backgrounds of all pupils when choosing products in the scheme. Schools can order a range of period products for girls, women, and students identifying as non-binary and transgender. There’s a full range of products to ensure various options and preferences for all who access the scheme.
You don’t need to order the same products throughout the year. You may wish to trial some products in smaller quantities to begin with. The scheme may adjust the product range available to you following feedback and monitoring of using patterns.
You will be able to order:
- period pads
- environmentally friendly period pads
- reusable period pads
- applicator tampons
- non-applicator tampons
- menstrual cups
- period pants in a variety of sizes
Once you have received your allocated products, you’re then able to distribute these in several ways. Again, this approach should be discussed within your setting to ensure the best approach for your pupils.
You may choose to provide free period products in the toilets or changing rooms. This provides a confidential space for pupils to help themselves and alleviate any embarrassment. Equally, many settings choose to make products available on request from a member of staff. However, this could possibly be a barrier to accessing products. It’s also been suggested that peer mentors or student representatives could be available to distribute products. Other settings provide their products in vending machines (non-chargeable) or lock-boxes where limited amounts can be accessed.
However you choose to distribute your products, it’s essential that schools break the stigma around periods through their RSHE curricula. Talking positively about periods is something that should begin in the primary setting to build an open and honest conversation around periods amongst all pupils.
Inclusive and accessible for all
Each provider must follow the Equality Act 2010, under which sexual orientation and gender reassignment are listed as protected characteristics. This includes pupils and students who identify as transgender or non-binary and who have periods (or who may later have periods). You must also make reasonable adjustments to alleviate disadvantage and be mindful of the ‘SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 years' when implementing this scheme.
Not all period products are suitable for those who have specific disabilities. You should ensure that you have appropriate methods in place to gather the views of disabled pupils and make suitable products, which meet their needs, available in your setting.
You should also consider:
- whether all pupils and students can access the products easily and when they need them
- if the safety information for each product is available in an accessible format
- the individual needs of users, including those with SEND, those with medical conditions affecting menstruation, and those with English as an additional language
- if the way in which products are accessed minimises the risk of embarrassment
- if you have clean and dry storage space for the products that you’re ordering
Recent DfE research found that participants prefer products to be available without having to ask for them, as it avoids feelings of embarrassment. This was also one of the main areas of feedback from roundtable discussions with young people in July 2023.
There are several ways you can raise awareness about the scheme. This could include:
- engagement with pupil or student voice groups such as the school council
- letters to parents and guardians
Feedback from pupils and students shows that posters with details of where to access products are useful, particularly when placed in toilets or communal areas. You may wish to use the template poster provided by phs.
Responsibilities of schools and education providers
It’s essential that all settings provide pupils and students with the opportunity to decide which products are needed. Pupil voice will be the main indicator as to what your students need and which products will be suitable for them. Deciding on the products you order could take place through a consultation with students. This could be delivered as a survey, a poll, suggestion box or a focus group amongst school council members or pupil ambassadors.
Listening to your young people will ensure that you provide them with what they need. In many settings, it’s advised to ensure a partnership with parents, particularly in the primary or SEND settings where the scheme is available for pupils in year 5 and above. Involving parents in a consultation will ensure that they are aware of your school’s commitment to period poverty and will also encourage parents to talk with their child, as well as furthering the discussion in the hope to eradicate stigma around periods.
Research by Girlguiding has found that:
‘8 in 10 (80%) girls and young women aged 11 to 18 haven’t been asked what type of period products they’d like provided by their school or college.
Potentially as a result of this lack of engagement and consultation, there is a mismatch between the type of period products available and the period products girls and young women want.’
One of the main responsibilities of schools in relation to the scheme will be to ensure that each pupil receives safety guidance around every period product. This is especially important when distributing internal products. Pupils and students need to know of any risks in using certain products, and they need to understand how to use the products in a hygienic way. Pupils need to know how to use the products, how and when to change the products, and how to dispose of the products.
All safety information will be sent and emailed to your setting with each order. You will receive safety guidance specific to each product that you order. Product and safety information may be updated, and you should always refer to the information provided with the product. Ensuring there is a clear understanding of these safety measures is paramount. This can be delivered during RSHE, whilst distributing products and providing guides or posters in toilets and communal areas for all to read. Parents can also be involved in talking to their child about safe use of period products.
Ultimately, this is an extremely valuable scheme which aims to eradicate the barriers to learning that could potentially arise if a student had started their period during the school day and is unprepared, or those students experiencing period poverty. All eligible settings should be ensuring that their students have access to the appropriate products in a safe way that meets the needs of the school community or ethos of the setting.
Further information around the updated period product scheme and funding allocations can be found from the DfE. For customer service support, contact phs customer services on 01827 255500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. phs will respond to questions about orders within 24 hours and to other queries by the end of the following business day.
If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.
DfE, ‘Period product scheme for schools and colleges’, 2023
phs Group, ‘Free Period Products and Schools – Everything You Need to Know’, 2022
Girlguiding, ‘Research briefing: Is the free period products scheme working?’, 2022