No girl should be held back from reaching her potential because of her background or gender. Our current Sex and Relationships Education guidance encourages schools to make adequate and sensitive arrangements to help girls cope with menstruation. Schools are best placed to identify and address the needs of their pupils, have discretion over how they use their funding and can make sanitary products available to disadvantaged pupils if they identify this as a barrier to attainment or attendance. We support schools in addressing the needs of disadvantaged pupils through the provision of the Pupil Premium, equivalent to almost £2.5bn of additional funding this year alone.
The department is committed to ensuring that any policy aimed at improving the attendance or attainment of pupils eligible for free school meals is based on robust evidence. We have sought to establish whether there has been any rigorous national assessment of the prevalence of period poverty or its impact on attendance, however none appears available. The department reached out to school stakeholders in July 2017 through the Association of School and College Leaders forum asking for contributions on the issue and have received a very limited response.
The department collects information on absence through the termly school census. We collect data on the number of possible sessions, number of authorised absences, number of unauthorised absences and the reason for absence for each pupil. The reasons for absence do not include a category, which would enable sessions missed due to a lack of access to menstrual products to be identified. The method of data collection does not enable us to identify pupils who are routinely missing school as we collect information on the total sessions missed each term. Full details of the absence data we collect in school census can be found in the census guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/school-census . We are producing additional analysis of our absence data to look for evidence of period poverty and will publish findings in due course.
We have made it a priority to reduce school absence for all pupils and there has been some notable success in this area, with overall yearly absence rates decreasing from 6.5% of possible sessions missed in 2006/7 to 4.6% in 2015/16.