Schoolgirls can’t take days off for periods as 'inconvenience is part of being a woman’, says headteacher

Alice Hall
·3 min read
A headteacher sent an email to pupils discouraging them missing school because of their periods  -  Ben Birchall/PA
A headteacher sent an email to pupils discouraging them missing school because of their periods - Ben Birchall/PA

Girls shouldn’t take days off school during their periods because “inconvenience is all part of being a woman’, a headteacher has told sixth-form pupils.

In a bid to reduce absenteeism, Year 12 students at Oxford Spires Academy were sent an email saying their periods were not an excuse for missing lessons, and advised that painkillers and heat packs were available from the school matron.

In the email Dr Jackie Watson, vice principal and head of sixth form, wrote that girls would not be able to take sick days from work in the future on account of their period, so should not expect to take them from school. The message was also sent to Year 12 boys.

Watson urged pupils not to miss out on their education. She wrote: “Any female student asking to be sent home ‘ill’ or phoning in ‘ill’ who has a period will not find this is a suitable excuse. Learning to deal with monthly inconvenience is all part of being a woman, I’m afraid.”

The email has caused widespread anger among pupils at the school. One student said: “Obviously I have to understand that people cannot take their whole period off each month but that is not what anyone is trying to do.

“Personally, when I am on my period, I experience really painful cramps, meaning I cannot walk without having to be bent double. Sometimes, I get so dizzy I pass out or vomit – obviously on these days, I would not consider myself fit to go into school.

“The fact Dr Watson sent the email out to the whole of sixth form as well, including the boys, is just making boys think it isn’t bad and that they shouldn’t be sympathetic.

“I am now quite uncomfortable to think of my next periods and how I will manage them at school, as I’m sure the majority of girls are.”

Tina Leslie, founder of the charity Freedom4Girls, said there is still “massive stigmas and taboo related to periods", adding that this may have been “insensitive and upsetting” for some of the pupils. 

According to the charity Endometriosis UK, one in 10 women and girls of reproductive age suffer with the condition, which can cause severe pain, heavy periods and infertility. 

“I would be happy to come educate @OxfordSpiresAc management about endometriosis, and the long, damaging delay girls and women face to diagnosis, because they are told their pain is just something they have to put up with. Girls deserve better than this,” wrote one woman on Twitter.

Dr Watson did not reply to requests for a comment, but told the Oxford Mail that she regretted sending the email to boys at the school. “I do think they’re right to be upset about that and I probably shouldn’t have done that and perhaps it was a bit foolish of me,” she said, and added that the school spends “a huge amount of time supporting students with issues and health-related matters”.

Research by charity Plan International UK in 2017 found that almost half (48 per cent) of girls aged 14-21 in the UK are embarrassed by their periods and only one in five (22%) felt comfortable discussing their period with their teacher.