Following this discussion, below is my list of 19 specific ideas that I have picked up from many conversations over the years as to how we can change things, NOW.
Since I first began drafting this list in July progress in some of these areas have been accelerating, and so I will also be signposting existing initiatives in the relevant areas. However, I am not privy to all of these, so please add things I’ve missed in the comments and I’ll incorporate them.
19 Ways to Get More Black British History into our Classrooms
1. Build on the Impact of Omission Survey to build a full picture what exactly is currently being taught in schools, and how. Many teachers have begun to make changes in the wake of the events of this summer. It is important to fully map the landscape, both in order to assess the scale of the problem, and to identify examples of best practice to be replicated.
2. We need a clear picture of what changes we want to see. A working group should go through the existing curriculum highlighting places where Black British History can currently be taught (including in other subject areas) with practical suggestions and tips for teachers. This might be a task that could be undertaken by the new Steering Group to review diversity in GCSE and A-Level specifications announced by the Historical Association in October. This survey could go way beyond the Department of Education’s brief list of such opportunities, and draw on the detailed submission made by the BASA Education Committee during the curriculum consultation period in 2013. Another angle here is to use the requirement for a local study: all you need is one local record- such as the baptism of an African in a local church (see for example this searchable dataset for London), and you have a springboard into the subject. There are various ongoing mapping projects that could help with this, including this map of graves and memorials, this one of Frederick Douglass and other African American abolitionists’ speaking tours of Britain; this one by Buzzfeed and Historic England’s Another England, and more references (such as some 400 records of Black Tudors and Stuarts I found during my doctoral research) can be found at your local county archive- a school visit to which would be an educational experience in itself. There are also opportunities to talk about history in other subject areas, such as literature, geography, music and art that could be exploited. The group should also prepare a guide to convincing your school to make these changes.
Training and Recruitment
3. Provide better Initial Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development. Even were the curriculum to be redrafted, the prospect of teachers being mandated to teach subjects they know little about is quite frankly, terrifying. I’ve heard stories of teachers running classroom “slave auctions”, asking students to get under their desks and pretend they are on a slaving ship, write a ‘slave narrative’ or to write a business plan imagining they are a plantation owner. More benignly, but equally unhelpful and revealing, is the almost ubiquitous focus on 20th century American Black History during British Black History Month. It is vital therefore that teachers learn Black British History themselves, both while studying for their PGCE, and through Continuing Professional Development opportunities such as the TIDE/Runnymede Beacon Fellowships or the Historical Association Teacher Fellowship Programme on Britain and Transatlantic Slavery. There is also scope in the field of online learning platforms to increase coverage of Black British History. This summer Enrich Learning offered a short Black British History course ; FutureLearn currently has courses on Empire: the Controversies of British Imperialism and the History of Slavery in the British Caribbean. For the truly committed, there are now two Masters courses, at Chichester (History of Africa and the African Diaspora) and Goldsmiths (Black British History), both of which can be done part-time, and in the case of Chichester, remotely.
4. While teachers of all backgrounds need to think about how to teach Black British History, we should work to ensure that schools not only recruit more Black teachers but work to promote them to leadership roles, where a more diverse range of perspectives will help make change. Nick Dennis has recently blogged on how we could apply the Parker Review on Ethnic Diversity of UK boards (2017) to the school setting.
Providing Better Resources
5. Work with Educational publishers of textbooks to similarly diversify their offering. Some of the existing texts need immediate revision. One credits Sir John Hawkins with “inventing the slave trade”- a statement that is both factually inaccurate (the Portuguese initiated the transatlantic trafficking of Africans half a century earlier), and perversely celebratory- another great British first! Some publishers have made public statements of solidarity in the wake of George Floyd’s murder that can be leveraged to persuade them to put their money where their mouth is. For example Hachette have agreed to republish The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britain by Hakim Adi following this video (2.5K views) and this petition (999 signatures). Similarly, after pressure on Twitter, Routledge has issued Imtiaz Habib’s Black Lives in the English Archives in paperback, making it available at the price of £29.99 as opposed to the previously prohibitive £120 hardback. New titles should also be commissioned, and some publishers are beginning to take steps in the right direction, such as Pearson Education, who are working with Stephen Bourne (author of Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War) to create a new KS2 resource.
6. Work to distribute the latest books to schools. It is often said that one barrier to teaching new topics in school is the cost of buying new books. Publishers should do more to make sure their books are getting to the students that would most benefit from them; whilst school librarians should push for them to be prioritised. Besides textbooks for specific courses such as the Migration GCSE module and the African Kingdoms A level option, there are a growing number of Black British History books aimed at school-age children. Amongst the books every school should have are the children's version of David Olusoga's Black and British: A Short Essential History (which brilliantly donates 50p to the Black Curriculum for every copy purchased); Angelina Osbourne and Patrick Vernon's 100 Great Black Britons (there is currently a GoFundMe campaign to send a copy to every secondary school in the country; please support if you can, or if you''re a teacher, you can request a copy for your school here); Hakim Adi's The History of the African and Caribbean Communities in Britain; Stephen Bourne's Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War; Kandace Chimbiri's The Story of Windrush; Floella Benjamin's Coming to England; Dan Lyndon's Journeys: The Story of Migration to Britain; and Shirley Anstis's Black British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons: 22 Stories of Passion, Achievement and Success - and I'm sure many more (please add suggestions in the comments so I can incorporate them- we may need a separate reading list!). Schools could also read fiction titles with Black British themes such as those by S.I. Martin and Catherine Johnson and the new Scholastic Voices series. This allows history to get into the classroom under cover of literacy, a tactic I discussed with my sister, a primary school teacher, here.
7. Provide high quality free online teaching resources. There are many of these already out there, and the Institute of Historical Research Library has recently gathered many together here, and is still collecting others via this form. The TES has recently launched a new hub for black British History resources, though they look far from very comprehensive at present. Examples of the high quality recent resources out there include the Runnymede Trust’s Our Migration Story; England's Immigrants 1330–1550; the TIDE Project (Travel, Transculturality, and Identity in England, c. 1550 – 1700); and the Bernie Grant Trust Marginalised No More project.
Change from below
8. Establish closer relationships between historians and school teachers. I’ve found the #historyteacher hashtag on Twitter and the History Teachers’ Book Club to be great ways to engage with an online community of enthusiastic history teachers. More traditionally, there are two major teaching conferences each year run by the Historical Association and the Schools History Project where teachers share ideas. It was exciting to see a diverse range of topics on both of their 2020 agendas (HA conference; SHP conference). The Historical Association also has two teaching magazines, Teaching History and Primary History with wide readerships. My own Teaching Black Tudors project started two years ago after I tweeted about the idea. I got a big response, ran a workshop, gathered lesson plans and schemes of work (a term I learnt along the way!) and we are now working with a leading educational publisher to enhance and distribute the resources. Interest has grown from the initial 20 or so teachers who attended the workshop in 2018 to some 700 people signed up to the project mailing list. This is a way of working that could be applied to other topics.
9. Work with Black supplementary schools, public and community historians such as those listed on the National Association of Black Supplementary Schools website; the Croydon Supplementary Education Project; Black History Walks, Black History Studies; the Windrush Foundation; the Equiano Society, Robin Walker; the Thinking Black educational project and and BTWSC/AHR/BBM/BMC to share knowledge and approaches to teaching Black British History, allowing school teachers to learn from the wisdom of community practitioners who have been teaching and making the subject accessible for decades.
10. Harness Parent Power. While some parents have been conscious of the problem for years, the homeschooling necessitated by lockdown this year will have meant many others have encountered the detail of their children's history lessons for the first time; while the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted the gaps in the narrative. Parents keen to diversify what their kids are learning can be signposted to the many resources referenced in this blog; but can also put pressure on schools to make change.
11. Engage pupils themselves in the process of change. It's clear many young people have their own views on this problem already, and have taken action, for example the Black Curriculum, Impact of Omission and Fill in the Blanks campaigns, as well as involvement in Black Lives Matter protests this year. The energy of current pupils can be channeled within schools into changing what lessons look like. An excellent example of this comes from Dr. Challoner’s Grammar School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, where the Assistant head teacher Catherine Priggs (who recently wrote about this process in the Historical Association’s Teaching History magazine) engaged her Year 8 pupils to lead the school’s review of the Key Stage 3 curriculum, and make their own recommendations for how to diversify what was being taught.
Change from above
12. Work with Exam boards to ensure they include and vigorously promote more Black British History modules. Up till now, none of the EdExcel (Britain’s most popular board)’s GCSE modules mention Black people in Britain. Edexcel’s parent company Pearson are now planning to introduce a module on Migration (a topic offered by OCR and AQA since 2016- listen to Martin Spafford talking about the course it here). However, only 4% of schools currently take this module, so the exam boards (and the rest of us) must do more to incentivise uptake. Besides specific modules on the topic, exam boards should ensure that all their modules take account of Black British History, whether asking questions about Cromwell’s imperial designs or using the contrasting example of the Bristol bus boycott to the better known events in Montgomery, Alabama. The OCR African Kingdoms A level option is an excellent example of how the offer can be diversified.
13. Work with Ofsted to ensure they are effectively inspecting the content as well as the quality of lessons, and including this in training of inspectors. The new 2019 inspection framework specifically guards against ‘curriculum narrowing’, so we must ensure inspectors have a good grounding in how a broad curriculum should incorporate Black British History. Senior Leadership Teams in schools will listen if Ofsted reports suggest that things need to change, and inspectors, unlike policy makers, actually see what happens in the classroom.
14. Petition individual schools, academy trusts and federations, as well as the local authorities (who still control a number of schools and can have quite a lot of wider influence over schools in their catchment area), asking them to consider making some of the changes listed here. The Runnymede Trust has suggested contacting school governors, or becoming a governor yourself. They provides further advice on this and a letter template here.
15. Petition to increase the amount of time given for teaching history in general, reviewing whether to make it a compulsory GCSE option. When calling for new topics to be taught, we need to bear in mind that some teachers only have an hour a week to teach history. This is not an excuse, and Black British History should not be seen as an extra to be bolted on, but rather a theme to integrate- for example by being sure to talk about Black soldiers and giving a global perspective when looking at the World Wars, but more time would clearly help.
16. Establish a Centre for Teaching Race, Migration and Empire, a suggestion made by the Runnymede Trust and the TIDE project last year in their Teaching Migration, Belonging and Empire in Secondary Schools report. This would be modelled on the high successful UCL Centre for Holocaust Education, and provide a hub and most importantly funding, for many of the suggestions made in this blog. Some of this funding might have to come from non-governmental sources, as with the Centre for Holocaust Education which is run in partnership between the Department for Education and the Pears Foundation. For more about how to support the campaign for such a Centre click here.
Harnessing the influence of other stakeholders
17. Engage with Museums and Galleries to ensure they are including Black British History in their Schools outreach programmes. They could follow the example of the Black Cultural Archives’s Schools Programme, as well as learning from groups such as Museum Detox, and freelance experts such as Michael Ohajuru, who leads Image of the Black tours in London’s major galleries, as well as taking his John Blanke Project into schools. Positive steps are being made in this direction, with Historic Royal Palaces hiring a Curator for Inclusive Histories, and Royal Museums Greenwich looking to include more Black History in their Tudors programming.
18. Assemble some prominent historians to back reform, some of whom have tweeted in support of change in recent months. This would be facilitated by the document created by the working group, which would make it clear exactly what is being proposed. Most historians would probably back at least the proposal to make more time for history in school timetables. Some might also be interested in working more closely with teachers to ensure the latest research is injected straight into the classroom. While it is often not practical for historians to make regular school visits (and this can be a bit of an add-on), short video clips of them talking direct to camera, as used to great effect by Jason Todd and Yasmin Khan, looking at her book The Raj at War, is a more scalable way of bringing them into the classroom. This would also help us to reach less motivated teachers, who could be encouraged by the example of their history heroes, as well as making a lasting impression on students.
19. Engage with journalists by pitching stories, tweeting, responding to the news cycle (even blogging!), and giving a more in depth understanding of and commentary the topic, especially the point that Black British History is about so much more than enslavement. The media can make a big difference, and more initiatives like the Guardian's Black History Timeline, which was rewritten and reissued this summer, or ITV's Back to School with Alison Hammond should be encouraged. Another positive development is that the BBC has made some of their back catalogue, such as David Olusoga's Black and British: A Forgotten History, available on iPlayer under the heading: 'Exploring Black History'- there are many more programmes that could be made more accessible in this way by both the BBC and other channels.
There is a heartening willingness amongst increasing numbers of teachers, schools and other stakeholders to make this change, and some great examples of schools that are already teaching Black British History. I hope some of them will have further ideas to add to this list. We are stronger together and if we want to change what happens in our classrooms sooner rather than later we need to pool our resources and experiences and look beyond changing the National Curriculum to ensure young people learn the true story of our nation.
This blog is the result of many conversations over several years, made urgent once more by the events of this year. These have at times been hard to keep up with, so if I’ve missed anything, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add/edit accordingly.
I would particularly like to thank the following people for their input and feedback on this blog, while emphasising that any errors remain my own: Shahmima Akhtar, Kerry Apps, Sean Creighton, Hannah Elias, Corinne Fowler, Tim Jenner, Abdul Mohamud, Michael Ohajuru, Helen Sanson, Martin Spafford and.Robin Whitburn.