The government has responded to calls for colonial and Black British history to be taught in schools by claiming the curriculum is “already incredibly diverse.”
Campaign group The Black Curriculum said a request to meet face-to-face with education secretary Gavin Williamson had been rejected on the basis that the current syllabus “as a framework is broad, balanced and flexible”.
The group, which aims to redress the “whitewashing” of education, said the government’s response was “disappointing” but told HuffPost UK it later received a “more positive” response from schools minister Nick Gibb and is hoping to arrange a meeting.
A separate petition signed by more than 250,000 people calling on the government to teach Britain’s colonial past as part of the compulsory curriculum has also been dismissed.
The organisation behind it, The Impact of Omission, said the response was “so superficial it borders on insulting”.
A spokesperson from the Department of Education told HuffPost UK: “Racism in all its forms is abhorrent and has no place in our society and schools play a crucial role in helping young people understand the world around them and their place within it.
“The curriculum in our schools is already incredibly diverse and offers pupils access to different Black History topics across all key stages, teaching children about significant figures from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds to help them learn about our shared history with countries from across the world.”
As the Black Lives Matter movement has gained global traction in the aftermath of the US police killing of George Floyd, in Britain the focus has been directed towards how children are being educated about racism.
An increasing number of people have questioned whether the school curriculum accurately depicts Britain’s colonial and imperial past, or reflects the achievements and contributions of Black people.
Led by Lavinya Stennett, the Black Curriculum campaigns for a syllabus that incorporates Black British history across a range of different subject areas including politics, migration and art history.
The group previously sent an open letter to Williamson urging the government to make the teaching of Black history compulsory in England through primary and secondary school.
“Thousands of us, the British voting public, are grief-stricken and concerned about the existing status quo in the UK, which disregards the lives and contributions of Black British people,” the letter said.
“Despite numerous calls over the years to reform the national curriculum to incorporate Black histories, these requests have been denied.
“Learning Black history should not be a choice but should be mandatory. Our curriculum should not be reinforcing the message that a sizeable part of the British population are not valued.”
Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone called the government’s response “incredibly disheartening”.
“Decolonising the curriculum is a necessary step to building a more inclusive country and a great way for the UK Government to teach children of all ages that Black lives matter,” he told HuffPost UK.
The teachers’ union said it was also concerned students were not being taught enough about the contributions of Black people in the country’s history.
Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union said it was “vital” the government acts to ensure the curriculum was more inclusive to “challenge the deeply entrenched stereotypes around race that limit opportunities for the next generation”.
“We share the concern that the current curriculum does not do nearly enough to include global Black history and the history of Black Britain,” she told HuffPost UK.
“This lets down Black students, but it also lets down all British students because they too need to learn about how Black people helped build this country.”
Black secondary school teacher Albert Adeyemi said not including Black British history in the curriculum has “failed many students” and has presented “false pictures of British history”.
“Representation matters,” he told HuffPost UK.
“At present the resonating image of Black people in history is slavery. The inclusion of Black history isn’t simply Black history, it is British history providing a more broader understanding for all students in Britain as a whole – it’s full history, it’s growth, how Black people and other ethnicities supported its development.”
Adeyemi, who runs a network promoting diverse and inclusive education, said the government refusal to meet with the Black Curriculum “speaks volumes”.
Although some schools were doing “great work” to promote diversity, he said this was a “minority” and that decolonising the curriculum “can’t be left up to individuals schools.”
“An open and honest curriculum is needed to educate pupils,” he added.
James Mosley, who works at a secondary school in Poole, Dorset, said the current curriculum only acted as a “starting point” for history teachers like himself.
“The national curriculum gives topic headings that schools need to cover but teachers can approach it how they believe will be beneficial for their students,” he told HuffPost UK.
Because the national curriculum does not apply to academies, Mosley argues it is the exam boards who should be ensuring students are being taught a history that is “more representative including the voices and stories of women, people of colour and different sexualities.”
Labour MP Kim Johnson said she would be raising the Black Curriculum’s calls to the education select committee and called on the government to “listen to our voices, hear our stories and let us ensure we are educating our future generations in our history in all its diversity”.
“The contribution of Black people to this country, to our society, has been there for hundreds of years but if our history is taught it focuses largely on the slave trade,” she said.
“Rarely do we learn about the Black rebels and oppositionists such as Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass or Toussaint Louverture. Who leaves school knowing that the first Black Lord Mayor in England was John Archer, or about the role Mary Seacole played in the Crimean War? Not forgetting the role Black service men and women played in the Second World War.”
Despite the government’s latest gesture of inaction, calls are only growing for the curriculum to reconsider what our children are being taught in classrooms.
In Scotland, a petition launched by author and model Eunice Olumide is urging the Scottish parliament to include Afro-Scottish history into the curriculum.
Olumide told HuffPost UK she was taught “little to nothing” about the history of Britain’s colonisation of Africa, the transatlantic slave trade or about the contributions of Afro-Scottish, Caribbean and Black British figures.
She is calling on the Scottish government to reform the curriculum to “include all Afro-Scottish history including artefacts of African diaspora, cultural and economic contributions, the role of the British Empire and the benefits to Scotland from colonies of the Caribbean and Africa”.
In Wales, 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for the devolved government to make it compulsory to teach BAME history in Welsh schools.
Plaid Cymru shadow education minister Siân Gwenllian said making Welsh history and the history of Black people and people of colour a statutory part of the curriculum would be a “historic move”.
“Making these elements a statutory part of the new curriculum presents an historic opportunity to redress structural inequality in Wales and to ensure that the education system creates an equal and inclusive Wales for all in the future,” she said in a statement.
“It will ensure that the next generation of children and young people in Wales learn about anti-racism and the diversity of Wales - and that they can see the world through the window of the country in which they live.”