Inclusive Britain: a chance to right our history curriculum

A review will finally support teachers and schools to put our ‘hidden heritage’ in its rightful place across the history curriculum, writes Blondel Cluff

A review will finally support teachers and schools to put our ‘hidden heritage’ in its rightful place across the history curriculum, writes Blondel Cluff

25 Mar 2022, 5:00

The UK’s multi-racial society is unique, and something that should be celebrated. However, for too long our shared values and our complex past have not been a consistent feature of children’s learning. It’s time to change that. Echoing the sentiment in Morgan Freeman’s famed words, black history should not be confined to one month alone.

I am therefore delighted to see that as part of the Inclusive Britain action plan published last week, the Department for Education will actively seek out and signpost high-quality resources – properly researched and, wherever possible, accredited – to support the teaching of black history all year round.

Everyone, no matter their class, colour or creed, should see their culture reflected in their education. As the daughter of Windrushers from Anguilla I want to see my parents’ history recognised, respected and learned from. It is a heritage I am proud of, and one that I do not want to see stigmatised, rewritten, cancelled or neglected.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report confirmed what we already knew, namely that many schools and teachers do not have the lived experience, knowledge or confidence to comprehensively teach history in a manner that embraces a multi-ethnic UK and, as such, may need additional support.

Many have made valiant efforts to address this, but it’s clear that in various instances we need better resources that teachers can use and trust. This is why I am pleased to see education at the core of the Inclusive Britain action plan. It provides 70 actions that build on the work the government began in 2010 to ensure that education truly reflects our society and recognises our past, providing a much-needed platform on which we can all work together to boost opportunity, promote fairness and tackle racial disparity. 

Black history should not be confined to one month alone

It is not about teaching the personal history of each individual in the classroom, but rather about linking the story of the diverse communities that make up our society to form a unifying sense of Britishness. This will equip the next generation with a more comprehensive understanding of the making of modern Britain that will support their aspirations and attainment.

Guided by a diverse panel of history curriculum experts, historians and school leaders, by 2024 there will be a new model history curriculum that will provide teachers in England with the tools to tell the multiple stories of the contributions different groups have made that have shaped the UK as it is today. It will help pupils understand how Britain’s history is entwined with that of the rest of the world and will contextualise their place within it.

I have long advocated for recognition of the UK’s ‘hidden heritage’, including topics that can be uncomfortable but must be recognised and addressed in order to create agency in our young people. So I am buoyed up by the innumerable examples of history that are both positive and hidden in plain sight, and I look forward to a time when they will be an overt and consistent part of the curriculum.

By celebrating the long-neglected contribution of ethnic minorities to British history, we will instil national pride in our young people. For example, the contribution of the West India Regiments that were an intrinsic part of the British Army from the 1700s, and that of the British West Indies Regiments that heroically served on the Western Front and in the Middle East during the First World War, but whose contribution was largely forgotten for over a century.

As my Race and Ethnic Disparities co-commissioner Michael Young said in our report: “Knowledge is ‘powerful’ if it predicts, if it explains, if it enables you to envisage alternatives.”

It’s time to introduce a history curriculum to deliver on that promise, one that allows all children to see, hear and read about their heritage, and the contribution their forefathers and mothers have made to modern Britain. I am confident the Inclusive Britain action plan will do just that.

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