Does the History Curriculum need to change?

Does the History Curriculum need to change?

The History curriculum within the UK has been criticised, lately during the Black Lives Matter movement when activists blamed it for ignorance of the Black experiences within this country. But before this Stephanie Pitter who was the founder of the campaign Black History, was one of the first trying to get a more representative version of history on the curriculum. 

Michael Gove announced in 2011 that he was refocusing the history taught in schools, which meant that the teaching of Black history became optional. This decision weakens an already flawed system centred on a dominant White Eurocentric curriculum, often omitting the contribution of Black and ethnic minorities historically (Alexander et al., 2015; Mirza, 2015; Arday, 2021). This re-focus essentially represented a move to a more conservative and traditionalist view of history (Arday, 2021). The current education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has commented on the lack of Black headteachers in schools in the UK, however, has not yet spoken about the history curriculum within schools. 

A significant focus of the research this blog uses is based on a report done by The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise that aims to deliver black British history all across the UK. This blog will discuss what is on most history curriculums in schools in the UK, what parts of history have been erased from the curriculum, how it is biased, and what its effect is. 

On the Government website, it states in KS3 pupils should be taught about: the development of Church, state, and society in Medieval Britain from 1066-1506; the development of Church, state, and society in Britain from 1506-1745; ideas, political power, industry, and empire: Britain, 1745-1901; challenges for Britain, Europe, and the wider world 1901 to the present day in addition to studying the Holocaust; a local history study; the study of an aspect or theme in Britain history that consolidates and extends pupils’ chronological knowledge from before 1066; at least one study of a significant society or issue in world history and its interconnections with other world developments. 

As shown, there is no specific part of the curriculum that outlines a part of history relating to the experiences of Black people within the UK or about Britain’s colonial past. The teaching of the British Empire, is a sanitised version of history, missing out on the exploitation that is involved. The national curriculum says young people are meant to learn about “how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world.” However, discussing colonialism seems virtually silent, and this is justified through optional modules or by briefly mentioned in schools in October every year for Black History Month.

Vast parts of history have been erased from the curriculum. A study done by the Guardian found that of the 59 GCSE history modules, only 5 mention the history of Black people in Britain (Leach, Voce, Kirk, 2020). According to the research conducted by The Black Curriculum, ethnic minority pupils continually observe their histories omitted from British histories for an unstained and polished version of British history, which is both inaccurate and not reflective of multicultural history.

Not only has the curriculum removed some of the catastrophes of Britain and painted it in a biased light, but it is also teaching false information or perhaps intentionally removing specific parts of history. In Miranda Kaufmann’s book, ‘Black Tudors: The Untold Story,’ she debunks the impression that the beginning of African presence in Britain was after slavery or that their only experience was exploitation and discrimination. Instead, she tells the real story of Africans living in Roman Britain as soldiers, enslaved people, or free men and women.

So although there has been a push for Black history to be taught in schools and in some cases schools have changed, what is being taught is a single narrative, of colonisation and enslavement. Michelle Codrington-Rogers, a citizenship teacher in Oxford who was the first black national president of the NASUWT, said: “We built the pyramids, developed modern numbers, built universities. Our ancestors were philosophers, scientists, military strategists, authors, writers, activists and so much more,” (Weale, 2021). What is being taught right now to children, is that the only Black history which is important is that of slavery. 

These findings make us ask ourselves what is the impact of this removal and ignorance of such a large population’s history? According to Lavinya Stennett, the founder of The Black Curriculum, the impact is that people do not know why Britain is the way it is today. “People are not aware of the contributions that were made [by black people] to Britain. Also, they don’t understand their classmates or the people around them,” (Leach, Voce, Kirk, 2020). If children were taught that those who arrived from colonies were often invited to become citizens, this would enrich the discussion of colonization and the contradicting immigration policies that are introduced in the UK. 

Providing children with a precise version of British history would develop their understanding of current issues. It also would allow them to decide for themselves whether policy decisions made by governments were and are correct or incorrect. They would form their own opinions on the agenda behind this and make children more independent thinkers, and their comprehension of the cause and effects of the world around them would be more significant. 

 

 

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