World Mental Health Day 2020 - a BAME perspective
Teaching a broader range of historical perspectives is fundamentally important because our understanding of history shapes the context in which we view the contemporary world. Consequently, the neglect of black and other diverse history leads to a poor understanding of the events, movements and motivations unfolding around us. Taking this a step further, making the study of black history an event rather than a pervasive element of the curriculum tacitly reinforces the notion of black history as the history of the ‘other’ rather than an integral part of our shared past.
There is no set date for the national history curriculum to be reviewed, despite ministerial interest and the work of groups such as The Black Curriculum. However, prior to GCSE level the history curriculum is very flexible, encompassing British history from 1066 onwards and mandating at least one study of a significant society or issue in world history. Everyone involved in schools, whether as a parent or a professional, therefore has the opportunity to help this flexibility be used to explore black history more thoroughly. The suggestions below can help you do this in an effective and constructive way
You are far more influential as part of a group than as an individual. Every group of parents will organise differently, whether it is through WhatsApp or (socially distanced) groups at the school gates, but as a general rule the more people making the same request, the more likely a school is to meaningfully engage.
Regardless of the importance of an aspect of black history, or any history, it is difficult to integrate it if the syllabus being taught is on a completely separate topic. Studying, for example, the Windrush Generation as part of a course on the aftermath of World War Two is much easier to do than set up an entirely new course on a topic which is rarely studied at all, such as the British civil rights movement.
Simply asking for more black history to be taught is helpful, but not as likely to spur action as offering a solution. Whilst you do not need to write an entire syllabus, broaching the topic with a useful first step already in mind helps. You can offer suggestions about useful resources and approaches, or even offer to speak on a topic yourself if it is in your area of expertise.
One factor which influences what optional content is covered is teacher subject knowledge. Discussing what knowledge of black history the teachers have is a good first step to integrating those areas into the school’s syllabus.
Directly studying history is not the only way to explore black history. Other subjects, such as English literature, allow for discussion of black culture and history by immersing students in the wider context. Reading works such as ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ or the poetry of Maya Angelou in lieu of ‘Of Mice and Men’ brings additional dimensions to students’ understanding of black perspectives. This is especially important as history is limited by it sources, the majority of which were produced by white men, whereas subjects which use contemporary sources have a much larger and ever expanding pool of diverse voices to draw on. It can also help in schools where the history teachers’ subject knowledge of black history would make it difficult for the topic to be taught.
Governors and trustees have a broad remit to provide leadership and accountability on the school’s educational performance, finances, and strategic direction. Discussions about the principle of including a more diverse approach to history in the curriculum fall within their responsibility, and they also have the benefit of existing lines of communication and credibility with the school’s leadership.
Academies and private schools have more freedom to set their own curriculum. Whilst they are still heavily influenced by the content of exams, they have greater autonomy to include a wider range of content. More than half of single academy trusts have changed their curriculum, as have over a quarter of multi-academy trusts, so both the ability and willingness to change is already established.
There is of course no guarantee that a school will be willing to teach more black history, and there are issues with parental control over the syllabus which may make them wary of allowing outside influence, however well intentioned. With that in mind, it is worth remembering that a great deal of learning takes place outside of school. Parents can engage children by helping them find resources, such as ‘Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain’, which they might not come across following the curriculum, but will greatly add to their understanding. Whether through expanding a school’s approach or helping individual children access more diverse resources, we can all play our part in ensuring that the study of black and other diverse history is commonplace rather than an event in October.
As a firm, we have had many discussions about BAME and Black Lives Matter and how we can make a difference to the movement. We wanted to do more than just put out a statement of support - we wanted to take substantive action to address the inequalities faced by Black people and other ethnic minorities. As part of this, we are publishing a series of blogs from our varying practice areas highlighting what we are doing, how you can make a difference and shining a light on the issues. The blog series can be found here.
Tim Haggett is a Talent & Development Manager within the Human Resources department at Kingsley Napley. Tim's instrumental role ensures that the firm is able to make the best possible use of its employees' talent. He is also a member of Kingsley Napley's BAME & Allies network.
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