'We are doing a disservice to British history if we do not include and embed the narratives of Black people within it,' argues Ife Thompson
Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, US, and the subsequent protests for Black Lives Matter, Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health (BLAM) UK Founder, Ife Thompson, has shared a number of reasons why the National Curriculum must change to incorporate Black history.
Black history is not currently a mandatory part of the national curriculum, despite endless calls for the government to make this change. Just in 2018, there were 25,000 signatures to Parliament calling on them to make Black History a mandatory part of the National curriculum
The wider issue of the curricula, and what is being taught within it, has been revisited since the toppling of Edward Closten a British slave owner and a member of the Royal African Company.
The captured West-Africans he owned were branded with the initials of his company and pushed onto ships bound for the Americas. Up to 84,000 men, women and children were trafficked, with many dying along the way. The lack of awareness and implicit acceptance of statues and places erected in the UK in the memory of slave owners shows that Black History being restricted to the month of October will never be enough.
The UK public at large is not aware of the intersecting histories of the United Kingdom and those of peoples of African descent. We are doing a disservice to British history if we do not include and embed the narratives of Black people within it.
The United Nations has called for states to “promote greater knowledge and recognition of and respect for the culture, history and heritage of people of African descent, including through research and education, and promote full and accurate inclusion of the history and contribution of people of African descent in educational curricula” as part of the UN’s Decade for People of African Descent.
We at not-for-profit BLAM, call on schools in the UK to do the same, and we have recently launched our Schools’ Campaign calling all former students, to email their old primary and secondary schools asking them to provide a more inclusive curriculum.
The white-washing of British history needs to be corrected and there are several actions that need to be taken.
In response to the petition in 2018, the Government said the following: “The content and structure of the new history curriculum provides scope for black history to be taught in schools. This, however, is not prescribed in detail within the statutory programmes of study. Instead, schools have the flexibility to teach these topics.”
So while it should be made mandatory on the curriculum there is currently plenty of scope for schools to choose to teach Black History, and BLAM UK is providing teachers with the tools to do this through teacher training sessions. It is also giving children free material online to learn about Black History, even if their school is failing to teach them.
Wider support is also needed for black pupils more generally. A government report on school exclusions found Black Caribbean pupils had a permanent exclusion rate nearly three times higher than the school population as a whole.
There has also been recent exposure on the issue that Black students are unfairly and overzealously being watched and punished by teachers , that are all too willing to apply zero-tolerance school policies without any intersectional dialogue or thought
Ife Thompson is a community- based activist, writer, barrister and the founder of BLAM UK Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health UK and Black Legal Support UK.