Make Black British history lessons mandatory

Cello David

In the UK there seems to be a pervasive myth that racism is less of a problem here than in comparison to other countries such as America. This myth has of course only been accepted by those of us that haven’t suffered the institutionalised wrongs that are ingrained in our society. However, this has been truly dispelled since the recent Black Lives Matter protests. There are so many actions we can and must take to right the wrongs that have been allowed to go unchecked for too long.

Education is a powerful tool and one that should be mobilised as part of this wider effort – it speaks to the mantra of know better, do better, and can help ensure that generations to come are more informed and empowered to create an equitable future. One key way in which this can be addressed is by ensuring our national curriculum properly represents British society by including Black British history as an integral part of our year-round curricula, rather than something that is studied for a solitary month a year.

As The Black Curriculum wrote in their recent report on Black British history in the national curriculum: “Owing to a largely Eurocentric curriculum, Black British histories are currently not present on the national curriculum or taught within schools in a mandatory or consistent manner. The UK has an ongoing systemic issue of racism, and the curriculum has a key part in educating and preventing these issues from manifesting”. The Eurocentric perspective on history ignores the black experience and provides all children with an incomplete understanding of our country’s past, so what needs to be done to address this?

Changing the curriculum

Whilst it is important for individual schools to do all they can to incorporate Black British history into their curriculum, for meaningful impact it is crucial it is made mandatory at a national level. While I am not an expert in these matters, The Black Curriculum is and its report released in January 2020 lays out four key recommendations for the History National Curriculum, which would help the curriculum better represent Britain and our past. These are:

  1. Developing a multi-cultural diverse National Curriculum and curriculum’s: Moving away from a prescriptive curriculum requires teachers to reimagine the history curriculum within the UK and consider how to develop a discourse that interweaves the contribution of Black History to the canon as a form or body of legitimate knowledge.
  2. Britain is multi-cultural and our past and present History National Curriculum must reflect this: Understanding that within an ever-changing multi-diverse society, conventions of Britishness will always require reconceptualising to incorporate all of our histories and stories.
  3. Diversifying History teaching workforces: The dearth of Black History teachers within the teaching profession is problematic and when aligned to discriminatory practices that exclude Black and ethnic minority teachers this remains a significant factor in the narrative of British history that get purported within our classrooms.
  4. Teaching Black history not only benefits Black students, but it is also beneficial to British society as a whole: The cognition which ensues allows us as a nation to collectively pause and reflect on race relations. Widening the scope of Black history studies can also help society unravel many of the racial stereotypes that linger to the present day.

These are all important recommendations that are long overdue and would go some way towards addressing the systemic racism entrenched in our society. A more representative and honest National History Curriculum is not a new idea, it is something that many have campaigned towards for a long time. It is extraordinary these calls have fallen on deaf ears for so long, but the Black Lives Matter movement provides us with a newly energised opportunity to take action to ensure long lasting changes are made.

What can be done in the meantime?

Don’t be passive, it is important that this momentum continues so as a first step, you can write to your local MP or the Department for Education to ask them to support the addition of Black British history on the curriculum. If you are a teacher, you can also ensure your school incorporates Black British history into the curriculum or if you are a parent teaching from home you can ensure you are bringing Black British history into your child’s lessons. There are several helpful and free resources on The Black Curriculum’s website that you can use to help you do this.

Incorporating Black British history into the National History Curriculum is long overdue, but hopefully now is the time that we can welcome much needed change. We have a responsibility to all students, to ensure they receive a well-rounded education that will lead to a happy and successful future, one that is rich in opportunity and helps address the inequalities of the past – and the only way we can do this is to ensure the curriculum from which they are taught is properly representative of the society it serves.

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