As principal of a school in Solihull with a diverse student population, I’m proud of the work we have done to ensure we teach our young people about the history and experiences of the black, Asian and ethnic minority communities that make up our local area. But decolonising the curriculum can’t be left to schools like ours. If we are going to create a new sense of post-colonial Britishness based on diversity and an analytical perspective of the past, then that work is just as relevant and important for students across the country, regardless of the make-up of their communities,.
In the latest in what is becoming a trend of footballers setting the political agenda for schools, Birmingham native Troy Deeney has taken up the cause of pushing for reform of the history curriculum to make it more inclusive of black, Asian and minority ethnic experiences. I fully support his comments about the importance of ensuring children from all backgrounds have a balanced and inclusive education about our past and how it has shaped society today, and I am glad that he has brought this issue to the forefront of educators’ minds.
Slowly but surely, policymakers are heeding the message, and the Department for Education’s model history curriculum, expected in 2024, will hopefully support teachers to develop their own curriculum in this area.
But there’s no need to wait. For us, it has been evident for some time that the status quo needed to change and we have already made great progress. We’ve added lessons on the Black Roman soldiers who were stationed at Hadrian’s Wall and Black Tudors in our Elizabethan England unit. We examine the British Empire from a traditional point of view and then from a revisionist point of view. For example, our year 8 pupils learn about the debate surrounding what should happen to the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University.
Our students also learn about several African kingdoms, and we then scrutinise the involvement of British people and companies in the slave trade. We cover the Jim Crow laws, the Louisiana literacy test, Emmett Till, Rosa Parks, MLK, and Malcolm X’s visit to nearby Smethwick. We also delve into civil rights in the UK and talk about the Bristol bus boycott and the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not just the pupils who have benefitted from these changes: coming up with these new topics has been an enjoyable professional challenge for our teachers and support staff too.
For a school like us at the heart of a diverse community, it makes immediate sense to ensure our students feel included in and represented by the lessons they are taught. But decolonising the curriculum is vital to the ethos of education whether or not a school has a multicultural student body. Schools with more homogenous student and teaching bodies will also benefit from providing more opportunities to learn more about those who are different from them and to consider other narratives and perspectives. In fact, unless they do, then rather than heal our social divisions, they will only become more pronounced.
We can’t afford that. Demographics don’t stand still and the make-up of our communities will continue to evolve. That’s why decolonisation is an ongoing project – an attitude towards curriculum rather than a one-off change. Having adopted that attitude, we were ready to respond when we recently welcomed a significant cohort of Cantonese families from Hong Kong. We are already in the planning stages of a unit on the British Empire and Hong Kong for next term.
Some, faced with the prospect of inspection, may worry about drawn-out curriculum changes. But there can be no better evidence of intent, implementation and impact than delivering a well-thought-out, high-quality curriculum. This kind of ambitious work is precisely what Ofsted’s framework allows and encourages.
Pupils can only benefit from a broader and more balanced curriculum, whether that’s in Solihull or Suffolk.