Swansea University led a UK-wide study and discovered that menstrual cycle education is inconsistent and insufficient.
The menstrual cycle is the process of ovulation and menstruation in women; the length varies from individual to individual; however, on average, most women will receive their period every 28 days. There must be appropriate menstrual cycle education in UK schools to encourage open conversations about periods and normalise their regular occurrence.
The new study set out to explore the current education provision in UK schools, including barriers to menstrual cycle education and the perceived support teachers receive to deliver such education.
Funded by Sport Wales, the ‘Teachers’ perceptions and experiences of menstrual cycle education and support in UK schools’ study is the latest stage of research into the impact of the menstrual cycle on female participation in sport.
Surveying UK primary and secondary school teachers
The research team from Swansea University conducted a UK-wide study calling upon 789 primary and secondary school teachers. They found that 88% felt that periods affect pupils’ attendance, participation in exercise, behaviour and confidence.
Furthermore, only 53% of secondary school teachers reported that menstrual cycle education lessons were taught in their schools. Of the teachers who were aware of their school’s menstrual cycle education syllabus across primary and secondary schools, 144 reported that a maximum of two lessons were provided within one academic year.
90% of the teachers surveyed were female and almost one in four (23%) reported that they were uncomfortable teaching about the menstrual cycle, with many drawing on their own experiences and less than half feeling confident in their knowledge.
Commenting on the study’s findings, lead researcher Dr Natalie Brown, of Swansea University, said: “I believe we have a long way to go when it comes to period education across the UK. We face the danger of disadvantaging girls by failing to help them prepare, manage, and understand physical and emotional symptoms when menstruating.
“It’s integral that we support teachers to improve their confidence and knowledge of the menstrual cycle for young people – both boys and girls – to grow up feeling confident talking about this. It should no longer be a taboo subject. We need to reframe the narrative and normalise conversations about menstruation. This needs to happen among teachers, young people, and their parents.”
Calling for improvements
Alongside their survey efforts, the researchers are calling for improvements to be made to menstrual cycle education for boys and girls across the UK, including:
- Making time available for delivery, particularly to increase the regularity of teaching and lower the age at which young people are first taught.
- Providing resources for teachers to deliver information relating to emotional, social and physical aspects of the menstrual cycle.
- Delivering training support to teachers, with the minimum expectation for teachers to receive online professional development through e-learning and/or webinar.
Dr Brown warns that schools need to urgently address the fact that many pupils missed out on learning about menstrual education because of the COVID-19 pandemic: “The timing of this report means we must also highlight the impact of COVID-19. With the enforcement of homeschooling during national lockdowns, there is a group of young people with significantly less menstrual education than in previous years.”