Periods during exams were a ‘nightmare’

Home Education Periods during exams were a ‘nightmare’
Periods during exams were a ‘nightmare’

Kate Morgan,Communities correspondent, BBC Wales News

Marcus Handstock A young woman wearing a pink woollen hat, looks over her shoulder and smiles into camera in front of a waterfallMarcus Handstock

Emily Handstock, who was diagnosed with endometriosis in her 20s, recalls writhing in pain during her A-levels

Emily Handstock vividly remembers “struggling to stand” as she went into her A-level geology exam, hiding a hot water bottle up her jumper.

The 25-year-old, who has endometriosis, posts videos online documenting the condition and how it impacts her life.

The campaign group, Love Your Period, has published an online guide offering practical advice for pupils.

Qualifications Wales said learner wellbeing was at the centre of its work.

Managing debilitating pain while on her period was nothing new for Emily.

While sitting her A-levels she was under investigation for endometriosis and recalled trying to manage her cramps with paracetamol, ibuprofen and heat.

“I had a massive jumper on and a hot water bottle up there and the invigilator, a man, came over as he thought I was hiding something… I wasn’t at my most amenable and said ‘I’m on my period, it’s a hot water bottle and it’s staying up there’,” she said.

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes, according to the NHS.

It is a long-term condition that can cause severe chronic pain, fatigue and can make it difficult to get pregnant.

Diagnosed at 22, she said she had “no doubt” that she was disadvantaged in her exams as a result.

“I didn’t have full brain capacity, and I couldn’t concentrate as my brain was screaming at me because I was in so much pain,” she added.

Molly Fenton A young woman with sandy blonde hair stands against a white wall holding a box of period productsMolly Fenton

Molly Fenton launched the Love Your Period campaign whilst still at school

‘Painful periods not uncommon’

Campaigner Molly Fenton recalled her period being a bit of a “nightmare” during her exams.

“I definitely leaked… but my big thing is that I need to go to the toilet all the time, I had to do so frequently.

“We don’t have these conversations and maybe that’s because they weren’t typical symptoms, but I also used to get really bad headaches so that would naturally affect my work,” she added.

She founded Love Your Period as a teenager at school in Cardiff to end period poverty and stigma for school pupils all over Wales.

“Painful periods are not uncommon, and they are problematic and not everyone gets support, and it does affect quality of life… a large proportion of people live with bad periods,” she said.

The 22-year-old said while the conversation is happening, action still has not been taken.

The group has published a guide on the topic offering advice from people who have recently sat exams:

  • Be prepared – ensure you have a supply of period products and have pain relief to hand
  • Stay fuelled – remaining hydrated can reduce bloating, and have healthy snacks available
  • Managing stress – relaxation techniques or gentle stretching can help manage stress and reduce cramps
  • Sleep – prioritise getting a good night’s sleep before exams as rest is crucial for cognitive function and physical wellbeing
  • Ask for help – talk to your teachers if you have severe menstrual symptoms and/or talk to friends, family or a healthcare provider if you need additional support
  • Source: Love Your Period campaign

“It’s about what to do about leaking, period pain, period discomfort, bowel movement and self-care. There’s no conversation about it,” she added.

“We are using social media to reach people – we can’t change exams but we want people to feel comfortable.”

Cassandra Lane A blonde woman with long hair over her shoulder, smiles at the camera wearing round glasses in front of some treesCassandra Lane

Natalie Brown found that teachers felt periods affected attendance, exams, as well as behaviour and confidence.

‘Pain is a real distraction’

Natalie Brown, who works with the Welsh Institute of Performance Science, has surveyed teachers and pupils about period education in schools.

“Sixty-four per cent of teachers said it just affected general learning and I think it was 45% of teachers said that it specifically affected exam results and exam performance in schools,” she added.

The research associate at Swansea University said children in primary school had told her it would “be the worst” if they had their period during exams, with pain being the biggest concern for many.

“Just being able to sit still for long enough in an exam… it’s a real distraction when you’re trying to perform at your best,” she added.

Qualifications Wales said learners could apply for special consideration, where appropriate.

“Any learner who is temporarily unwell or experiences another event beyond their control… to the extent that it is reasonably likely to have detrimentally impacted their ability to sit the exam or to demonstrate their normal attainment can request an awarding body process known as ‘Special Consideration’,” a spokesperson said.

They added this process involved potentially making minor post-exam mark adjustments dependent on the timing, nature and severity of illness or event.

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