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Teaching Puberty in Primary School

The statutory guidance for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) has made the teaching of puberty statutory in primary schools. This is seen by many people as long overdue; it is a biological fact that puberty is beginning earlier, and it is vital that all children at primary school are prepared.

Paragraph 89 of the guidance states: “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.”

The teaching requirements for health education mean that by the end of primary education, pupils should know:

  • key facts about puberty and the changing adolescent body, particularly from age 9 through to age 11, including physical and emotional changes 
  • about menstrual wellbeing, including the key facts about the menstrual cycle.

So, it is appropriate to begin teaching in Year 4. Some schools may decide to begin earlier than this to meet the needs of their children.

girl learning about puberty and periods

Creating a safe learning environment is vital in all Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education but particularly when you are dealing with sensitive issues. It is important to create ground rules or group agreements, signpost sources of help, and depersonalise the learning, as both children and staff can feel worried about discussing puberty. 

These rules should be negotiated with the children and, as much as possible, be written in their words. Staff should ensure that:

  • discussions are confidential – what is said in the room should stay in the room unless there are any safeguarding concerns; 
  • personal questions shouldn’t be asked – make it clear that children shouldn’t ask staff personal questions and vice versa; and 
  • the mentioning of names should be avoided – if children want to talk about personal experiences or their family or friends, they should not name them. 

Remember that ground rules can be revisited and adjusted and that new rules can be added if necessary. 

It is important to ensure all children are included. You should consider special needs, gender identity, sex and sexuality. 

Whatever the nature of a child’s special needs, they are likely to experience puberty at a similar age to their peers and so need to be able to access the learning to meet their needs. Differentiation of lessons is therefore vital and could include adapting activities or additional input through discussion in small groups or one-to-one. 

Puberty affects males and females differently, so you may want to consider teaching in single-sex groups, but always think about how this will meet the needs of the children. You should also consider any children who may be questioning their gender identity and how you will support them. If there are clear advantages to teaching in single-sex groups, for example, girls being able to ask questions about menstruation, then do so, but ensure that both sexes do receive the same teaching.  

Although sexuality will not be a main focus in puberty lessons, staff need to ensure they are being inclusive. For example, when talking about attraction, acknowledge that children may feel attracted to someone of the same sex or the opposite sex.

In most cases, the class teacher will be the best person to deliver puberty sessions. Bringing in a specialist who can offer additional expertise can be beneficial, however, but it is important for a member of staff to attend the session, to support with behaviour management and to note any safeguarding or other issues. 

The statutory guidance sets out the overarching content; however, here is an overview of the topics you might include for different year groups.

Year 4 Puberty Lessons

These lessons will provide a general overview of puberty, including the physical differences between children and adults. You might also focus on personal hygiene and the early changes children might see in their bodies, such as body hair.

Year 5 Puberty Lessons

These lessons are key, as many children, particularly girls, will be experiencing changes. More detail should be provided on body changes, including naming the external and internal reproductive organs. Menstruation should be introduced, and girls should be given additional input on dealing with periods, including the type of protection available and procedures in school. More focus could also be given to the emotional changes that occur during puberty.

Year 6 Puberty Lessons

It is important to recap learning from previous year groups to ensure all children understand the changes they will go through. All children, particularly girls, will benefit from more input on menstruation, including dealing with periods in secondary school.

Kapow Primary's RSE & PSHE lessons on puberty are accompanied by animated videos!

Giving children time to ask questions and creating a safe space is key to puberty lessons. Dealing with questions can be extremely rewarding but also daunting. Here are some top tips to give them confidence.

Plan ahead – think about what children might ask and about how you might answer. 

Make use of question boxes – these are helpful for both the children and the adult, as you can read questions and prepare answers ahead of the lesson. 

Keep your answer simple – try to clarify the question and give as simple an answer as possible. Children will ask further questions if they need to know more.

Target your answers – sometimes, it might not be appropriate to provide an answer for the whole class; you might want to speak to just an individual or a small group.

Delay answering – if you’re unsure how to answer a question, tell the children you’ll come back to them on it. This gives you time to think, find out or discuss with a colleague.

The key thing to remember is that providing a reliable answer is very important, otherwise, a child could ask their peers or look online, possibly leading to them coming across unreliable or dangerous information. 

Your school should have a policy (developed in consultation with parents) that sets out what will be covered in PSHE education. However, it is good practice to make parents aware of which term you will be covering certain topics, for example, puberty. This means parents can talk to their children before the session if they wish and are ready for any questions they might be asked afterwards.

Sarah photo
Written by:
Sarah Huggins

Sarah has over 20 years’ experience in education. Starting as a Primary teacher, Sarah then moved into an advisory role that covered both PSHE education and Citizenship. She delivers courses for teachers, as well as sessions for children and young people and creates educational materials. 

Sarah runs her own independent education consultancy company Personal Development Matters, which supports schools to deliver high-quality PSHE education as well as other areas of personal development.