An education campaign has been launched calling on the government to make British black history compulsory in the UK’s national school curriculum.
Social enterprise The Black Curriculum, which was launched in January last year, has renewed calls for the government to incorporate black histories in UK schools after decades of young people not being ‘given a full or accurate version of British history’.
The education organisation has ramped up the pressure after weeks of feeling ‘grief-stricken,’ as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, while Black Lives Matter protests expand across the world following the killing of George Floyd.
Campaigners are now encouraging the public to sign an open letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, urging the Department for Education (DfE) to make black history mandatory on the national curriculum for pupils aged eight to 16. The syllabus aims to improve social cohesion, improve attainment and ‘build a sense of identity in every young person in the UK’ with a strong focus on the arts.
CEO of The Black Curriculum, Lavinya Stennett, 23, told Metro.co.uk she decided to set up the organisation, following years of ‘frustration’ at the way the contributions of black people in Britain were omitted from schoolchildren’s education – including her own.
‘For years black history was just not on the curriculum and when it was, it’s just slavery and focusing on the dehumanising aspects of black history,’ said the former SOAS University of London student.
‘I have been brought up knowing that’s not the totality of my history, so why are we constantly fed this?’
‘It’s an intergenerational problem,’ added Ms Stennett, from London. ‘We have to put an end to this by starting to reframe these histories and also provide a more accurate version of British history because it didn’t start with slavery.
‘Black people were here before Roman times and there is archaeological evidence of that.’
The syllabus teaches pupils about 12 topics ranging from pre-colonial Britain, to the Windrush generation up to present day migration and deportation.
Music genres, sound system culture and their impact are also taught in the programme, along with sus laws, contemporary politics and the legal system, including a focus on the way black activism has changed British policies.
Following the events over the last two months and the inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, Ms Stennett said there is no better time than now to implement a new curriculum – particularly while many schools remain closed.
The organisation is pushing for educational reform by the time most schools reopen in September. Ms Stennett said the education secretary needs to take recent events into consideration and ‘throw that into how the curriculum is taught’.
She pointed out that the UK is not exempt from the racial issues the US faces, adding that England and Wales’ stop and search powers are ‘just another form’ of police brutality.
The CEO said many are quick to draw comparisons between the two nation’s histories with racism, adding: ‘The fact is that the British had a better way of covering up what they were doing’.
‘Our resources, our blood, our sweat have built the UK economy as we know it today,’ Ms Stennett added.
A closer look at racial inequalities in the UK:
- In 2017/18, there were 94,098 hate crime offences recorded by police in England and Wales – 76 per cent of which were racially aggravated, reported the Home Office.
- Black people were 40 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police in England and Wales than white people between 2017/18, according to Liberty.
- Black people are 26 per cent more likely to have firearms used against them than white people, while tasers were 20 per cent more likely, according to 2017/18 Home Office data.
- BAME people are 48 per cent more likely to be on zero-hour contracts and black people are twice as likely as white people to be unemployed, according Operation Black Vote.
- Fewer than 1 per cent of UK university professors are black, revealed a 2018/19 Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) study.
‘The streets that are paved with asphalt came from Trinidad. The Bank of England and other banks bailed out UK slave owners driving slaves in the Caribbean – our issues are very much connected to the US’s but people don’t know that because they’re not taught it’.
Speaking about the footage shared widely of the moment Mr Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck, Ms Stennett said although the video was disturbing it has brought racism to the forefront of public discourse.
‘In some ways I actually feel quite liberated that our voices are finally being heard,’ she added.
‘But it does feel like we constantly have to preach. Always having to prove that racism is real, having to prove those experiences’.
She said because it was captured on video there was ‘no way to argue the fact that the police are an institution that have represented a form of structural violence’.
‘These structural inequalities are a part of our society, they’re a part of the curriculum, they’re a part of the different ways in which we interact with each other, particularly from a state level,’ she added.
The 1999 Macpherson report, which was written following the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence by a group of white youths, highlighted the need for a diverse school curriculum.
But 21 years later, ‘no significant advancements’ have been made, said the organisation.
Ms Stennett said the government now needs to take responsibility for making black history mandatory instead of leaving it up to schools – many of which are grappling with budget cuts and teachers who don’t know how to teach the topics.
Independent think tank Runnymede Trust backed the calls, with senior policy officer Kimberly McIntosh saying that a realistic understanding of Britain’s history of migration and empire has ‘never been more urgent’.
Topics covered in The Black Curriculum’s programme:
Pupils learn about sound system culture, the evolution of music genres and the impact on Black cultural identity. The influence of Calypso and Reggae music in Britain is also explored.
Black people in pre-colonial Britain, African and Caribbean Migration between 1910 to the 60s, and 21st century geopolitics including migration, deportation and systematic racism.
Politics and the legal system
Contemporary knowledge of the different political and legal systems, ideologies and processes that involved, influenced and were invented by black British populations. Students learn about immigration policies, the justice system, activism and legal rights.
Land and the environment
Students are taught about changing social and environmental patterns, with a closer look at food inequality and mental health. The module looks at the living conditions and displacement of Black British people and the impacts of heritage, regeneration and gentrification.
Further information about the curriculum is available here.
Ms McIntosh, author of report, Teaching Migration, Empire and Belonging in Secondary Schools, told Metro.co.uk: ‘At the moment, the national story being taught across disciplines is incomplete. The influence of migration and empire both to our history and to the richness of British culture is unmistakable.
‘Yet whether students get taught this vital part of our national story is a lottery. The curriculum offers some opportunities – but it remains narrow’.
‘One of the recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review is Home Office staff learn about “Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons”,’ she added.
A DfE spokesperson said: ‘Black history is an important topic which all schools have the freedom to teach from primary school age onwards, as part of the history curriculum.
‘Schools have flexibility over how they teach this subject and which resources to use from a range of organisations and sources, including the Black Curriculum if they choose.’
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