What this North East school is doing to tackle period poverty

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A SCHOOL is celebrating three years of being a part of the Department for Education’s period equality scheme.

Portland Academy in Sunderland is a school for those aged 11-19 with learning diffculties.

Since taking part in the scheme, the academy has noticed an increase in attendance in pupils who have taken time off due to period poverty.

According to the leadership team, awareness of access to the products alongside more open conversations with guardians has allowed the parents of pupils, many of whom have learning or physical difficulties, to feel confident their daughter would not experience any upset during their period at school.

Read more: ‘We’re devastated’: Darlington family left with nothing after fire destroys their home

Karen Hart, 48, assistant head at the school said: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in attendance in terms of learners who were potentially taking time off during their period, which has also positively impacted their whole wellbeing and progress in schools.

“It’s been so important to us to ensure that the scheme has good visibility at the school, so that we can normalise conversations around periods, and if anyone needs extra support.”

‘Freshen-up’ stations have been set up in bathrooms for all pupils, alongside perfume, deodorants and hygiene wipes. Period products are also placed in baskets for anyone to use. The ‘freshen-up’ stations are taken care of by student mentors at the school, ensuring that the stock of products is regularly topped up.

Teacher Rebecca Ross, who facilitates the scheme at the school, said: “There are so many reasons why this scheme is needed. Some families simply don’t have enough money, some might live just with their dads and they might be too embarrassed to speak to them, some might come from different cultural backgrounds where periods are just not spoken about.”

Alongside the products at the ‘freshen-up’ station, pupils are able to access more packs by asking for products.

The high visibility of the scheme at the school has also encouraged more open conversations with the boys at the school too, which has further normalised the discussion of periods.

Read more: Everything we know after Darlington fire destroys home and leaves family with nothing

Graeme Musson, deputy head at the school said: “We have fewer male staff at the school than female, which is quite typical of SEN (special educational needs) settings, but this doesn’t mean that we shy away from having these conversations.

“We ensure that we have males delivering lessons about periods and making the entire male population of the school aware of periods.

“The efforts made by the entire faculty are appreciated by all learners. Nathan Morris-Francis, 18, a student at the school said: “It’s important to know about periods so that you can be more mature when you grow up.”

His classmate, Chloe Ramsey, also 18, added: “If someone at the school doesn’t have enough money then it’s great that they can have the products for free so they can make sure that they have good hygiene.”

Speaking about the additional benefits of the scheme, Graeme Musson said:  “What the scheme has done has helped us have frank and honest conversations with families that might have been very difficult beforehand.

“We’ve started having discussions about periods but it’s meant that we have been able to talk about broader issues in relation to poverty, and how we can support those families in a really bespoke and dignified way, which has been really worthwhile.”

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