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Sir Alec Shelbrooke MP leads debate on Endometriosis in Education in Parliament

On Tuesday 21st May 2024, Alec Shelbrooke MP (Elmet and Rothwell) led a debate on endometriosis in education in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament. The debate got cross party support with MPs from several parties contributing, including Emma Hardy MP (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle), and Catherine McKinnell MP (Newcastle upon Tyne North)  from the Labour Party, Jim Shannon MP (Strangford) from the Democratic Unionist Party, and the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Caroline Nokes MP (Romsey and Southampton North) from the Conservative Party.  

The debate was perfectly timed to discuss the Government consultation published last week on new Statutory Guidance for Relationships, Sex and Health Education in England.  

The consultation proposes including endometriosis as a mandatory part of the curriculum for all pupils in secondary schools in England. This will be a major step forward and will help pupils learn what is and isn't normal for a menstrual cycle and menstrual health, providing them with the words and understanding to seek help should they need it. 

Commenting on the importance of raising awareness of endometriosis, Alec Shelbrooke MP said, ‘We have started to raise the profile of the disease, and more and more people are speaking about it. But it is surprising how few people recognise the condition.’ 

The new proposals also introduce an age limit for when primary pupils are first taught about periods, saying they are not allowed to be taught about them before Year 4. Pupils usually turn 9 years old during Year 4. MPs also debated this point and raised our concerns that this gives the wrong message to families about periods being unsuitable for discussion with young children and would like teachers to be free to talk about periods earlier if they want to.  

The Shadow Minister for Schools, Catherine McKinnell MP (Newcastle upon Tyne North) said “It is so essential that young people are taught about their bodies in school, and that they learn about not just relationships and sex, but health and wellbeing. That must include what is and is not normal throughout puberty, the menstrual cycle and hormones, to set young girls and young people up to live healthy lives, both mentally and physically.” 

The Minister for Schools, Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP (East Hampshire) responded in the debate saying: ‘There is clearly strong cross-party support and drive to improve understanding of women’s health issues and ensure that young people are able to both navigate any issues they may face and, crucially, understand and support others.’ 

It takes an average of 8 years and 10 months to get a diagnosis of endometriosis in the UK. Symptoms can start in puberty, meaning some children and teenagers suffer with potentially debilitating symptoms for much of their school life, without a diagnosis. Early education on menstrual health in schools will prevent young people suffering, help them achieve their potential and lead to shorter diagnosis times for those with endometriosis. 

Menstrual health education became compulsory in primary and secondary schools in England in September 2020, although we don't know the extent it has been implemented. The new proposals to cover endometriosis specifically will ensure pupils learn what is and isn't normal for menstrual health, providing them with the words and understanding to seek help should they need it.  

Endometriosis UK will continue to campaign for change so that all pupils across the UK learn about menstrual health, at the right time. Keep an eye on our website and social media for how you can get involved. 

You can view the debate here, or read the transcript here

A photograph of the Palace of Westminster