The menopause can be a challenging experience, so we want to make sure that Now Teachers have support if they experience the menopause while teaching.
We help Now Teachers navigate their career change in many ways. Just as we provide access to career change coaching and subject-based teaching advice, we also offer them access to menopause resources and we are planning a menopause support group. This work is guided by the current needs of our Network and in the confidence that today’s young people and their loved ones will not face constraints at work because of this entirely natural phase of life.
The menopause and schools
Britain’s teachers are amongst the youngest in the OECD with an average age of 39. In contrast, the average age of the career changers joining Now Teach last year was 47 and, while it varies by individual and ethnicity, the average age to experience the menopause in the UK is 51.
In a young and disproportionately female profession, we want to help ensure that the careers of menopausal and perimenopausal teachers are not set back by their experience.
We’ve written this so prospective career changes know how we can support them and that you can talk to school leaders about the menopause and your needs. It’s based on a larger resource commissioned for Now Teachers by Helen Clare, ex-biology teacher and school menopause consultant.
Our central point is that schools can inadvertently make life harder than it needs to be for women, transmen and non-binary people experiencing the menopause. We want to support teachers to have constructive conversations with schools to change this.
Some aspects of school life can make the experience of the menopause challenging. It can be difficult to manage the unpredictable physical symptoms within the structured life of a school.
|Aspects of the perimenopause||Challenges in school life|
|Unpredictable periods||Low flexibility to use toilets due to timetable defining when and where you are in a classroom|
|Problems with memory (especially verbal) and concentration||Teaching demands good communication skills and focus|
|Fatigue||School life will include stressful situations|
Schools need a menopause policy
Just as schools make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities or medical issues, so they should also provide adjustments to support teachers’ specific experiences of the menopause.
The unpredictable and sometimes socially difficult symptoms of the menopause are made more challenging if teachers must find their own solutions; school leaders should work to support teachers so they can focus on teaching.
Our advice to teachers joining a school is to ask senior leaders about their menopause policy before you need it, and failing that, speak to them about what their policy could provide to support you. (The National Education Union [NEU] provides a menopause toolkit for teachers that includes a suggested policy, and there are more resources at the end of this article too.)
We know a menopause policy won’t solve everything, but it will give you an idea how much thought has been given to the problem by your school’s leaders. The menopause policy should clearly describe the accommodations and adjustments being made in the school, rather than a piece of paper with vague commitments no-one ever reads. Some of these adjustments are described below.
What adjustments can you request?
There are two starting points to this discussion: what the school can provide and what adjustments will support you.
You will have a list of the things that will make your job and your menopausal experience work together. Your leadership team will have a sense of what they can offer – which they should have worked out through their menopause policy but may not have. You will probably find a solution somewhere in the middle.
Accommodations you can ask for include:
- A classroom near toilets for when you urgently need to use them
- Working off site during non-contact time to conserve energy when fatigued
- A menopause support group in school to share experiences
- A system to call for cover when you need it
An important conversation
These conversations are not equally easy for all of us – sometimes because of our personalities, sometimes because we are also dealing with other issues around race, sexuality, and gender in the workplace. But when any of us insists that their health issues are taken seriously, it helps us all.
Sometimes managers might assume they know what you need. You may have to gently remind them that menopause affects everyone differently and insist that they listen to your experience and work with that rather than any 'one size fits all' ideas. For example, research from the US suggests Latina and Black women experience the menopause earlier and for longer than white women.
It may fall to you to guide the conversation. If so, frame it as a mutual problem-solving exercise and you will be able to seek further support from Now Teach and the Network if you are finding that challenging. That's why we're here.
You can find out more about the menopause and working in a school below.
- Now Teach has published a resource to help improve awareness and understanding
- Menopause advice from the NASUWT teaching union
- Menopause expert Helen Clare interviewed on the 'Coffee With The Coaching Revolutionaries' podcast
- Miss Menopause - menopause resources and training
- Menopause Training Company - what it says on the tin
- Diverse Educators - an organisation dedicated to celebrating diversity in schools