A secondary school that asked pupils to list the “pros and cons” of slavery for homework has come under fire from parents, who say it is “racist, inappropriate and offensive”.
The exercise was given to Year 11 GCSE pupils, aged between 15 and 16, by a history teacher at the Hazeley Academy in Milton Keynes, and was derived from an AQA teacher’s guide on “Britain: migration, empires and people” study topic.
In the module, students are asked to examine the reasons why the British Empire pursued the transatlantic slave trade instead of piracy, with the stated aim to show how “plantations proved to be more profitable than piracy”.
As homework for the course, a teacher at Hazeley Academy asked students to list the “pros” and “cons” of slavery in a table, seen by HuffPost UK.
Sabrina Aries, the mother of a student who complained that the exercise was inappropriate, said she swiftly raised the issue with the headteacher, both via email and in person.
After her complaint on 10 September, she received a response apologising “for any upset caused by the homework.”
But speaking to HuffPost, the 38-year-old said students are yet to be addressed about the homework, or why the exercise was problematic. This is now her main concern about the incident.
“The response from the school was that they’re sorry, there hadn’t been an intention to offend anybody and the teachers were going to have a conversation with the students in class about why the wording was incorrect and why it needed to be addressed,” she said.
At parent’s evening on 11 October, four weeks after the school’s apology, Aries said the history teacher had no knowledge of plans to explain the homework, and directed her to the head of department.
“I don’t feel that, individually, any of those teachers meant to cause offence. But I also think that, as a majority white staff, they do not consider history from any other perspective,” Aries said.
“To me, if they re-educate the children appropriately then I don’t have an issue with the fact that there was a mistake made. The fact that the mistake has not been rectified is an issue to me. This is an ongoing problem that I have with this school.”
The Hazeley Academy principal, Tony Nelson, in a statement to HuffPost UK, said: “In no way are we trying to encourage, celebrate or praise slavery and therefore we have amended the language in this homework.
“Instead of ‘pros and cons’ mentioned, we have adjusted this to ‘Reasons why Britain chose to develop plantations’ and ‘Why slavery shouldn’t exist’.”
He continued: “The member of staff did apologise for the wording and explained the context of this to the parent who raised the concern along with their daughter. We did check with both mother and daughter that their concerns had been adequately resolved and that if they had not then they should simply contact the academy.”
Nelson said the subject leader explained to Aries that “in no way where we trying to encourage, celebrate or praise slavery and therefore we have amended the language in this homework.”
The principal said that in lessons teachers are “purely examining the history of this topic and considering why Britain elected to develop slavery, not whether or not slavery is good.
“We stress throughout the lessons on this topic that we do not see this as a positive part of history and that it was one of Britain’s most shameful acts.”
Aries, a former youth worker, said she wanted to bring about wider reform by raising the issue with the Hazeley Academy. “I hoped that, by complaining, it would make the school more aware of how the curriculum is generally very dismissive of black contribution [in the UK].”
Aries also raised the issue of a “lack of representation” in schools. “We pay for our education through taxes. I do not expect my child to miseducated in this way.”
Campaigner Paul Lawrence of The 100 Black Men of London, a community-based mentorship organisation, has supported Aries by also writing to the school.
He told HuffPost UK: “The moment I saw the Facebook post made by Ms Nelson [now Aries] I felt something needed to be done. Black history has been under attack and this appeared to be another attempt to rewrite history and justify European aggression.”
Lawrence feels that asking children to consider the pros of slavery is fundamentally incorrect. “It’s akin to teaching them that one plus one equals four” he added.
This isn’t the first time the AQA course has come under scrutiny. In an article for The Independent published in 2017, history teacher Hasnet Lais criticised the “whitewashing of the UK curriculum”, referring to the same batch of AQA resources and the “Work for the Migration” module.
In October, HuffPost UK exclusively revealed that an AQA-approved GCSE sociology textbook contains a number of offensive statements about minority groups.
Following a series of reports, the book was swiftly pulled from sale and a new edition will be released next Spring.
An AQA spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The enormous suffering of the millions who were forcibly removed from their homeland and used as slaves can’t be overstated and it’s important for students to learn about this.
“We’re sorry to hear that a school has misinterpreted one of our guidance documents, which was produced and checked by history experts. We regularly review documents like this.”