Game-changing environmental education programme thrives during lockdown

Rethink Periods a free schools programme which offers an alternative to outdated period education in primary and secondary schools, has gone online following the UK’s lockdown, smashing all targets, and getting shortlisted for two awards.

Rethink Periods offers unbiased information about menstruation – highlighting all the products available, the social and environmental contexts and answers the questions no-one else seems to be asking. The programme is run by environmental not-for-profit, City to Sea and was funded with support from Waitrose’s Plan Plastic. Since its launch in late 2019 the team have trained over 600 teachers to become Rethink Ambassadors, with a projected reach of over 100,000 pupils across England.

Having trained over 250 teachers across the UK, at face-to-face training sessions, the programme was suddenly faced with the impending lockdown. With content heavily reliant on demonstrating the wide range of period products available on the market, the team quickly got to work rethinking the training methods and platforms, to make online training possible and within a week had taken the entire programme online.

“The key to smashing period taboos and revamping period education is to create a nurturing, safe space where exploration, questioning and learning are the essential priorities’ said Clare Marshall, Rethink Periods National Co-ordinator.  ‘We are leading the nation into a new period of changed perception, increased honesty, openness and normality concerning periods, and that’s the key to improving period equality.”

With a 1/3rd of menstruators not being told about periods by their parents, and 10% receiving no preparation before their first period there was a real and urgent need to empower young people. Coupled with the fact that the average pack of menstrual pads contains a staggering 5 plastic carrier bags there was no time to waste.

The response from teachers, who are now looking for support and alternative ways to deliver classes to their students online was over whelming – with over 1000 now signed up and on a waiting list.

Bristol teacher, Rachael Scott, said: “This is an incredible opportunity for schools and young people which could not have come at a better time. It will truly empower the generation who have a chance to make a real difference. Breaking the taboo of discussing menstruation openly by beginning in the classroom will open the door for further discussion and action that will reach far outside the school walls. There is such a will amongst young people to be the change, and these resources will support teachers to facilitate the way.”

Since taking the programme online the team have:

•            Seen a huge increase in sign-ups from teachers who are looking for new and innovative ways to reach their students online.

•            Reached an additional 350 teachers who will go on to train over 52,000 pupils.

•            Reached teachers across the UK as they were no longer constrained by geographical locations. By taking it online, a teacher can attend wherever they are in the UK – which has meant we’ve been able to reach people from Cornwall to Scotland and in some incredibly remote locations.

•            Massively reduced their carbon footprint as they’re no longer driving or requiring teachers to drive to training locations.

How does it work?

Rethink Periods gives teachers the knowledge and support they need to teach quality PSHE lessons whilst giving students the opportunity to explore plastic free period products and reusables. This curriculum-linked programme provides free training and resources to support teachers with the delivery of engaging and innovative lessons for KS2 & KS3 pupils that have become mandatory in 2020. It offers unbiased information for all menstrual products available whilst exploring the social and environmental contexts of menstruation.

The Rethink Periods programme is now run online, via Zoom, with a link sent to teachers in advance (note to CTS – we cap it at 20 attendees per session, so everyone has a chance to ask questions etc.). A sample box containing a section of over £110 worth of plastic-free and reusable menstrual products is posted to teachers so they can explore the products in their own time before delivering the programme to their students.

By splitting the training course into two 40 minute sessions with a 10 minute break in between, they were still able to delve into the environmental impact of conventional period products, explore the digital resources provided to schools for free and showcase the demonstration period products sent free to schools.

Rethink Periods Ambassadors are then offered the opportunity to attend a virtual Q&A session with the Rethink Period training team after they have received their period product demo box. These discussions have proved popular and useful, discussing ideas for possibly teaching the content to pupils online, depending on how lockdown restrictions are lifted. Collaborative discussion between ambassadors has been a lovely added bonus to the Rethink Period programme.

Another teacher said: “This is the most informative, clear and engaging training I have ever had for any PSHE teaching. The resources look amazing and will make such a difference to the quality of the lessons we do with our young people.”

Rethink Periods has been shortlisted for two Global Good Awards: ‘Best Education Programme’ and ‘Special Judges Award for Innovation’.