When the Department of Education was implementing a new scheme to tackle period poverty in schools, our research provided an insight into girls’ experiences and perceptions of periods.
In Spring 2018 the Chancellor announced funding to provide period products to all schools and colleges in England, in an initiative to tackle period poverty. The Department of Education needed to provide guidance to schools and colleges on how the products could best be distributed. It was important that any guidance issued also took into account the views of the potential users of the scheme.
The Department of Education were looking for an innovative research approach, that could yield real insight from a wide cross-section of pupils and students aged 9 to 19 – but it was also important that any research abided by strong ethical guidelines, given the sensitive subject matter and the age of the participants.
Working with our partner, Hopscotch Consulting, we recommended an online qualitative discussion forum. The methodology allowed us to hold an in-depth discussion in an anonymous forum which helped to remove any stigma about talking about experiences of periods. Questions were adapted for different age groups to take account of the wide age range we needed to cover in a single project.
Through careful planning and research design, and working with a specialist recruiter, we were able to meet all the ethical and safeguarding standards needed to work with a young audience on a sensitive topic.
By taking a flexible approach and running the research over a weekend we achieved one of the highest levels of engagement of any online community we have run – with over 1600 comments and contributions from 62 participants.
The research showed that for many, periods are still a taboo subject that girls are often reluctant to talk about with anyone except for their closest friends. The research provided insight on how girls feel about having to ask for period products in schools, and we were able to provide the Department of Education with strong evidence for the pros and cons of different distribution methods and communication approaches.
The Department of Education issued guidance on implementing the Period Product Scheme to schools and colleges in February 2020 , partly informed by our research. Our research report was also published and is available here.