According to the BBC, less than 40 per cent of state schools and colleges have placed orders for free sanitary products since the scheme was launched across England in January.
Now, Free Periods – an organisation that aims to end period poverty in schools – has called on the government to do more to ensure pupils can access the products they need.
Gemma Abbott, director at Free Periods, said “many schools and students [are] still not aware” of the scheme and that the government “needs to take some responsibility for the fact that more than 60 per cent of eligible schools and colleges have yet to sign up”.
Abbott added that Free Periods has “hardly heard anything” from the Department for Education (DfE) since the initiative first launched.
“If DfE really is committed to ensuring that 'no young person's education is disrupted by their period', as they said back in January, then they need to make much more effort to ensure that schools and colleges know about the scheme, that they place orders for products and that they distribute those products efficiently and sensitively to students who need them,” she told the news outlet.
The charity’s call comes amid concerns that the “opt-in” nature of the scheme is not working, with Amika George – who started the campaign to get free tampons and pads into schools as a teenager – stating that the coronavirus pandemic has been a ”disaster“ for those who were already struggling to afford sanitary products.
“Household incomes have been squeezed and with so many jobs feeling fragile, children are not even asking their parents for money for pads,” she said, adding that she would like the government to contact any schools which are not ordering through the scheme and offer them help.
According to research by children’s charity Plan International, three in 10 girls in the UK have struggled to afford or access period products during the pandemic, while one in five said their periods have been harder to manage due to the lack of available toilet roll in stores.
Meanwhile, 30 per cent said they did not know who to ask when seeking out free sanitary products.
The DfE has said that it expects interest in the scheme “to return to pre-lockdown levels” when children return to school and that some did continue to offer free period products to pupils during lockdown.
The government states that the scheme is open to all learners in schools under the age of 19, while older pupils can access support if they are continuing on a study programme they began aged 16 to 18 or have an education, health and care plan.
Schools can select from a wide range of period products, varying in type, size and brand, including period pads, environmentally friendly period pads, reusable pads, applicator and non-applicator tampons, and menstrual cups.
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