Black British history 'missing from school curricula in England'

Former Soas student seeks to embed black history in education system as alternative to Black History Month

An education campaign has been launched to get black British history embedded in the national curriculum and taught in schools in England year round, as an alternative to the limitation of Black History Month.

Schools mark Black History Month with a variety of lessons and activities every October, but campaigners say it is not enough and have developed the “black curriculum” to help ensure all pupils aged between eight and 16 are taught about black history through the year.

The curriculum, which aims to be largely arts based, has been designed to develop a sense of identity and belonging among young people, as well as help build social cohesion and raise attainment.

The syllabus has 12 topics, including art history, politics and migration, and seeks to redress the predominantly Eurocentric perspective of the national curriculum for England. It covers a wide variety of subjects including the sound-system culture, the “sus” laws, Windrush, gentrification and deportation.

The black curriculum was devised by 23-year-old Lavinya Stennett, who thought of the idea while studying for a degree in development and African studies at Soas University of London. She later built up a team of 30, and has started visiting schools and holding weekend workshops.

Stennett was motivated, in part, by her own education in south London, where she found Black History Month focused mainly on slavery, Martin Luther King, and the American civil rights movement, with little attention paid to black British history. “It really is just to do with slavery – which is an important part of history, we do need to learn about it. But I don’t think that’s enough for young people.”

Black History Month has been an annual fixture in the UK since 1987, celebrated in schools and at tens of thousands of events across the country, but in 2018 a row occurred after a number of local authorities scrapped the name, rebranding it “diversity month”.

The 1999 Macpherson report, which followed the racially motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence, highlighted the need for a national curriculum which reflected a diverse population, but according to Stennett there had been insufficient progress.

Experts say there are opportunities in the history and English curricula to study black British history and texts by black British writers, but Stennett said her aim was to make the teaching of black British history mainstream and mandatory.

She said: “Throughout centuries to the present day black British history has been made and unfolded in front of our very eyes in different spheres. Yet with no mandatory place on a highly Eurocentric national curriculum, black British history continues to be viewed as insignificant.

“We have seen the effects of this omission, which pose a number of serious and dangerous political consequences. It has seen the arbitrary deportation of UK nationals, and not least the preservation of racism in British society.”

The black curriculum initiative was formally launched on Wednesday at Soas, alongside a report by Jason Arday, assistant professor in sociology at the University of Durham, which called for greater diversity in the history teaching workforce and better training for teachers.

Stennett’s work builds on a growing number of initiatives aimed at increasing diversity in the curriculum.

Claire Alexander, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester, won a 2019 Guardian University Award for her work on the website Our Migration Story, which explores the stories of migrants who shaped Britain, to support new GCSEs developed by the OCR and AQA exam boards.

Alexander said: “My concern is the need to mainstream this across the curriculum. In the last few years the way history has been taught has been very narrow. Teachers feel their training is not sufficiently diverse. They are worried about saying the wrong thing.

“There’s a real need for more centralised support in making sure people know this is a really important question for young people and in supporting teachers in their training to teach these histories in a sensible way.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “Black history is an important topic which schools have the freedom to teach from primary school age onwards, as part of the history curriculum. Schools have flexibility in how they teach this subject and which resources to use from a range of organisations and sources, which could include the black curriculum if they choose.”

The black curriculum

Art history Music genres, music as cultural identity, and study of the sound system culture. Pupils learn about calypso and reggae music in Britain.

Politics and the legal system The sus laws and immigration policies surrounding Windrush, the justice system and rights, and how laws can be enforced in a discriminatory way.

Land and the environment The impact of regeneration and gentrification on the living conditions of black people in low socio-economic areas, and consequences of cultural and physical displacement. Food inequality and mental health issues.

Migration Black people in pre-colonial Britain, African and Caribbean migration from 1910 to 1960s, colonialism and cultural assimilation, and 21st century geopolitics, including migration and deportation.


Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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