Diversity and Inclusion

Advancing Black history education in the UK

Did you know that you can ask your MP to host a roundtable for you in parliament? The Black Curriculum (TBC) founder, Lavinya Stennett, certainly knew this, and last week took the opportunity to bring together key players in the Black history sphere for a critical discussion of Black history education in the UK, hosted by Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP.

TBC’s mission is to work with key stakeholders to embed Black history into the national curriculum. This roundtable sought to find practical and productive actions for ways to achieve this, and further cemented the determination for Black history to be meaningfully incorporated into the national curriculum, all year round.

With contributions from Professor Deirdre Osborne, expert in feminism, race and poetics, Michelle Codrington Rogers, citizenship teacher and NASUWT President, and award-winning history teacher and author Shalina Patel, amongst others, participants left this roundtable energised to arm the next generation of students (and ultimately leaders) with the comprehensive knowledge of history they need to navigate our increasingly globalised world.

A survey conducted by Bloomsbury in 2023 found that more than half (53%) of those surveyed could not name a Black British historical figure, and that only 7% could name more than four. The same survey suggests that less than 1 in 10 Brits believe that Black people have resided in England for more than 1000 years, assumptions erring towards 200 years, when in fact the answer in closer to 2000. Is this really the state of our history education system at the moment?

More can, and should, be done. Teaching Black history does not just build essential knowledge about structural and institutional racism, and Black brilliance, joy, and success. It also helps to create a sense of belonging for students with diverse heritage in UK classrooms, which may even serve to improve attainment and academic progress.

However, as it stands, the only mandatory (statutory) topic on the Key Stage 3 history curriculum is the Holocaust. Whilst the Department for Education has defended this set up as giving schools and teachers the freedom and flexibility to include Black history, in practice, the non-statutory nature translates as schools having little incentive to change their existing approach to history.

Shalina’s powerful account of her experience as a history teacher of 15 years spoke to the importance of the supportive leadership team in her school giving her both the time and resources to construct a department that is committed to building an inclusive history curriculum. 

Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. When there is resistance to change at management and/or senior leadership team level, it can make it really difficult for teachers to do this important work alone.

Bell’s remarks further emphasised the role that teacher confidence and resources play in delivering a comprehensive Black history education. She reasoned that all teachers must be equipped to do justice to Black history in the classroom, so that the responsibility does not fall solely on teachers of colour. TBC’s resources are a great way to begin to do this, as Robert Primus, a secondary school history teacher, advocated, but this must be paired with some more concrete changes to the way history is taught in our schools.

Therefore, in the face of a general election in July, we urge the next government to consider the following asks from TBC and the other participants at this roundtable:

1 Introduce mandatory racial literacy training

The consensus at the roundtable was that we know teaching Black history is essential but that there are real, practical barriers to achieving this widely across the UK. TBC together with sisters Naomi and Natalie Evans who founded Everyday Racism ask that the next government introduces mandatory racial literacy training for school staff and leaders, under the rationale that racial literacy acts as a form of safeguarding for students from diverse backgrounds. Every adult interacting with children and young people must understand the intersectionality of identity in the UK and how the way that narratives and histories are told in the classroom deeply affects the sense of self and belonging of those listening. It’s imperative that teachers are given the time, headspace and resources to become more racially literate, and we believe making this training statutory is the way to make this happen.

2 Make Black history a statutory part of the curriculum

Recent RSHE guidance published by the Department for Education has proven that if they want to, the government is willing to prescribe what schools should and shouldn’t teach. Whoever forms the next government should make Black history a statutory part of the history curriculum. The reality is that value of teaching Black history for improving cultural understanding, increasing sense of belonging, and students seeing themselves reflected is unfortunately often overlooked by headteachers and senior leaders for whom the current school system places such great emphasis on grades and exam results. Making Black history statutory will support teachers to overcome challenge from their school leadership, as the content will be on official specifications and be included in exam materials too. There has already been some good progress in this space at Key Stage 4, where GCSE exam boards recently introduced a migration thematic study, covering migrants in Britain as well as the history of Notting Hill, but for the Key Stage 3 curriculum much remains to be achieved.

3 Equip teachers to meaningfully integrate Black history

Black history must not be seen as a tick-box exercise but should be meaningfully integrated into the curriculum. To realise this ambition, teachers must be equipped with the resources and empowered with the knowledge and confidence to do justice to Black history without ‘othering’ the stories of the past. For example, learning about Mansa Musa and the richness of West Africa before any mention of the transatlantic slave trade will support both teachers and students to reframe their understanding of Black history. Or when studying medieval England, to simultaneously look at medieval Mali, or Japan, or Baghdad. It is not necessarily a case of overhauling the whole curriculum, but weaving interesting and positive stories into the topics that are already so well known. It is about teaching a full history, not just the version constructed by the victors. As Bell summed up nicely, ‘you’re not learning a complete history if you’re not learning about black history’.


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