Decolonisation of the curriculum is not a new concept. Over 20 years ago, the Macpherson report into allegations of systemic racism in the police following investigations into the Stephen Lawrence murder recommended:
“amendment of the National Curriculum, to provide education which deals with racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity in the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society in which we live.”
More recently, Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review stressed the need for learning and education to ensure Home Office staff
“learn about the history of the UK and its relationship with the rest of the world, including Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration and the history of black Britons”
While this applied to workplace learning rather than school curriculums, it highlights the absence of knowledge among many British adults about Black British histories. Something which would in part be addressed going forwards by the compulsory inclusion of these topics in school curriculums.
Despite this, the teaching of Black British histories remains optional within the National Curriculum in England, with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson having stated that the curriculum is ‘broad, balanced and flexible, allowing schools to teach Black histories’. While this may be the case, evidence shows that it is not being taught, and that teachers desire more training to enable them to devise and deliver learning around subjects of migration and empire. Previously, Williamson has seemed unwilling to discuss or explore this further, having refused a recent offer to meet with Lavinya Stennett of the Black Curriculum (nb, a second letter from Williamson to The Black Curriculum did acknowledge that education is at the root of tackling racism).
With these things in mind, last month ALES wrote to the English Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson to call for a review of the National Curriculum in England.
ALES are conscious that ARA also represent members in the devolved nations and Ireland, and that the education landscape and leadership is different in all of these. However certainly in the devolved nations, the teaching of Black histories is not required. ALES have therefore worked with the ARA Wales committee to send a different letter to Kirsty Williams, Welsh Minister for Education and with the ARA Scotland Committee to send a letter to John Swinney. We continue to work with ARA, Ireland.
We have since received a response, seemingly the same response that was sent to the cross party signatories of a letter on the same topic, as recently publicized in the media. We do not feel this sufficiently addresses the concerns listed above, and have therefore worked with ARA to submit a further response.
Text of our sent letters can be found at the end of this article. They were based on a template from the Runnymede Trust. Another template is available via the Black Curriculum website. We would encourage any individual who feels that the current curriculum in their country does not do enough to ensure that young people are informed about black lives, histories and contributions to our society to either adapt our letters or one of the other templates and send to their relevant minister and M.P. If you would like further information, please do get in touch with us at ALES@archives.org.uk.
Alex Healey ALES Chair