The stigma around the ‘M’ word is finally starting to break down. More women in the public sphere are talking about their experiences with the menopause. Campaigns to change how we treat ‘the change’ are gathering support (Make Menopause Matter). Until now, though, one key factor has been missing. But that is about to change-with the menopause on the National Curriculum for the first time.
What is the National Curriculum?
The National curriculum is set by the Department for Education. The National Curriculum outlines what subjects children need to be taught and what standards are expected at different ages. All local-authority-maintained schools in England have to follow the National Curriculum. Private schools and academies do not have to teach the National Curriculum, but a lot of them will choose to do so.
The National Curriculum is broken down into Key Stages:
- Key Stage 1 (years 1 and 2)
- Key Stage 2 (years 3 – 6)
- Key Stage 3 (years 7-9)
- Key Stage 4 (years 10 and 11)
- Key Stage 5 (years 12 and 13)
PSHE (personal, social and health education) is an optional subject for schools, but from 2020 a new Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum was made compulsory for all schools (apart from Independent schools which have their own standards to follow).
RSE covers various physical and social aspects such as puberty, sexual relations, contraception and pregnancy and mental wellbeing.
What was already included on the National Curriculum?
The National Curriculum covers menstruation in two different subject areas-biology (or combined science) and RSE.
In terms of the biology curriculum, the amount of detail required varies by exam board but all of them cover:
- the basic anatomy of the female body
- the role of the ovaries, oviducts, uterus and vagina in menstruation
- the menstrual cycle, including ovulation and the hormones involved
RSE covers the topic of menstruation more widely. The exact curriculum will vary between schools but will often include:
- The physical and emotional changes that happen during menstruation
- Menstrual products and how to use them
- What would be considered normal for menstruation and what might require speaking to a doctor
The extract from the National Curriculum Relationships and Sex guidance is shown below.
- The onset of menstruation can be confusing or even alarming for girls if they are
not prepared. Pupils should be taught key facts about the menstrual cycle including what
is an average period, range of menstrual products and the implications for emotional and
physical health. In addition to curriculum content, schools should also make adequate
and sensitive arrangements to help girls prepare for and manage menstruation including
with requests for menstrual products. Schools will need to consider the needs of their
cohort of pupils in designing this content. (link to the curriculum can be found here)
The majority of teaching about menstruation will happen in secondary schools. However, as some girls will begin their period before the age of 11, it is not uncommon for primary schools to begin teaching about menstruation.
Menopause on the National Curriculum
The new RSE curriculum makes specific reference to teaching about the menopause under the section: Intimate and sexual relationships, including sexual health:
- the facts about reproductive health, including fertility, and the potential impact of lifestyle on fertility for men and women and menopause.
Specific details as to what needs to be taught and how it should be taught are not included (as is standard for the RSE curriculum). As long as schools are covering the topics there is a lot of freedom in how it can be taught.
This can create problems though as it can lead to a lack of appropriate resources for teaching. Schools are busy places with a lot of subject material to cover. Teachers will often lack time to create additional, detailed resources- particularly in a subject that is not a specialist area for them.
How can we therefore ensure that the menopause is taught in a way that is useful to all children?
What should we teach children about the menopause?
The keyword here is ‘children’.
Teaching about the menopause should not be confined to just girls. In the same way that boys learn about menstruation, they should also be included in the education regarding the menopause.
Fortunately, as menstruation is covered by the National Curriculum, there is already a blueprint that can be used for teaching children about the menopause. Alongside the biology of what is happening in the female body during the menopause, including the hormones involved, the other physical and mental wellbeing aspects of the menopause should be covered.
It is also important for the menopause to be taught in a way that provides the girls with a sense of agency. As with menstruation, where there are numerous options in terms of menstrual hygiene and menstrual care, so there are different options when it comes to the menopause. Making time to talk about these options, and emphasising that each woman is unique and that the menopause is not ‘one size fits all’, is crucial.
A significant majority of the girls currently in school will still be in the workplace when they begin to go through the menopause. Employers are (quite rightly) having to make adjustments to their working practices for women who are going through the menopause. Although laws and guidance are likely to change over the next few decades, sowing the seed that the workplace has to consider the menopause will be a useful first step.
Are there any resources for teaching about the menopause?
The inclusion of the menopause on the National Curriculum is a recent one, so there are not many materials available currently.
There are a number of organisations that provide general advice and support about the menopause including:
I will be working on a set of resources that can be used in secondary schools for teaching about the menopause. If you would like to know when this becomes available then make sure you sign-up for my emails (where you will also get regular tips and resources for teaching science). You can sign-up here….
What would you like to see in material designed for teaching about the menopause? Do you have any tips or suggestions of your own? Add them to the comments below!