Education: time for action against racism

Black Lives Matter, protests, NEU, racism, institutional racism, British histories, empire, colonisation, the WIndrush scandal, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, The Black Curriculum, teaching Black historyWe need a greater understanding of British histories of empire, colonialism and migration to combat racism in our institutions.

Commenting on the Black Lives Matter protests taking place in cities and countries around the world, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “This is not the time for patience but for action against racism.

“These protests, giving voice to deep inequalities, raise urgent questions.

“The demand is for safety, for equal respect and dignity, for equal representation and participation and freedom from racist violence.

“This is a demand for human rights.

“Urgent action is needed to address widespread stereotyping, discrimination and the fear and violence caused by racism. In education, we must lead the way in breaking down the barriers caused by racism.

“We must improve the curriculum so that students learn about how Britain was founded on global histories.

“Students should learn about the achievements and roles of Black Britons in every field of human endeavour. And they should learn about the campaigns by Black workers for equal treatment and the stand against injustice.

“Racism will not be addressed without positive action and we need to talk openly and candidly about racism and the social division and harmful stereotyping it creates for Black workers and for young Black people.

“There are many steps that must be taken – and taken now – to build a better approach to the national curriculum after Covid-19 and adopt a wider vision of education than a system that is all about exam results.”

The NEU, she continued, is calling on the government to:

Review the curriculum to ensure it embraces the fact that Britain is rooted in Black and global history, achievement and culture and includes the achievements of Black Britons; as recommended by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry;

Commit to review Initial Teacher Training to equip all trainee teachers with anti-racist strategies and tools, for the benefit of all students;

Adopt a strategy to make the pipeline of new entrants to the teaching profession significantly more diverse over the next four years;

Learn from the Windrush Review and develop a Department for Education plan to teach about the history of the UK and its relationship to the rest of the world – including Britain’s colonial history and the history of migration; and

Provide immediate advice to employers in the education sector about the racial disparities in the pandemic in order to minimise risks to the wellbeing and safety of Black workers and the communities in which they live, work and travel.

“This term,” she added, “the NEU will launch an anti-racist framework to respond to the experiences of Black children and Black staff and to help education staff develop anti-racist approaches.

“We support the initiatives from NGOs such as the Runnymede Trust and youth movements such as The Black Curriculum to highlight the importance of challenging the education system to be more inclusive and making the curriculum representative and relevant.”

The Black Curriculum’s report, ‘Black British history in the National Curriculum’, explores how the current History National Curriculum systematically omits the contribution of Black British history in favour of a dominant White, Eurocentric curriculum that fails to reflect this country’s multi-ethnic and broadly diverse society.

In its current guise the History National Curriculum continues to disassociate Britain from a legacy that has oppressed Black people historically in favour of a more romanticised, filtered legacy that positions Britannia as all-conquering and eternally embracive of ethnic and cultural difference.

But both the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, released in 1999, and the recent Windrush Lessons Learned Review of 2020 have called for greater understanding of British histories of empire, colonialism and migration to combat racism in our institutions.

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review said: ‘The Windrush scandal was in part able to happen because of the public’s and officials’ poor understanding of Britain’s colonial history, the history of inward and outward migration, and the history of black Britons.’

If you want to find out more about the reforms needed to this country’s history teaching and education, three  short reports by the Runnymede Trust provide  useful summaries: ‘Teaching Migration, Belonging and Migration in Secondary Schools’ (2019), ‘The teaching of migration in the history curriculum’ (2019) and History Lessons: Teaching Diversity In and Through the History National Curriculum (2015).

If you want help reform the history curriculum, click here and here.

Education: time for action against racism