History Curriculum: Black History

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:07 pm on 8th September 2020.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 6:07 pm, 8th September 2020

While I take on board the hon. Lady’s important point—in fact, some of the things she said can be applied to other elements of the curriculum—we do believe in autonomy and in trusting professionals. She highlighted in her earlier intervention the proportion of young people taking up the option of studying “Migration, Empires and the People” in the AQA history GCSE, and she was right to point out that it is about one in 10. I expect more and more schools to consider offering that option to their pupils, particularly given the publicity that she and others have given to the issue. She may also be interested to know that the exam board Pearson is currently developing a study option on migration in Britain and, subject to Ofqual approval, it will also provide more choice to schools.

To support that, the curriculum includes a number of examples that could be covered at different stages, drawn from the history of this country and the wider world. Examples include, at key stage 1, teaching about the lives of key figures such as Mary Seacole and Rosa Parks. The key stage 2 curriculum suggests that teachers could explore the Indus valley, ancient Egypt and the Shang dynasty of ancient China as part of teaching on early civilisations. It also calls for study of a non-European society, with examples including Mayan civilisation and Benin in west Africa from 900 to 1300 AD.

At key stage 3, as part of the teaching of the overarching theme of Britain from 1745 to 1901, topics could include Britain’s transatlantic slave trade, its effect and its eventual abolition, and the development of the British empire. Key stage 3 also requires teaching of at least one study of a significant society or issue in world history and its interconnections with other world developments, with examples including Mughal India from 1526 to 1857, China’s Qing dynasty from—as I am sure you know, Madam Deputy Speaker—1644 to 1911 and the USA in the 20th century.

The Department sets out that GCSE history specifications produced by the exam boards should develop and extend pupils’ knowledge and understanding of specified key events, periods and societies in local British and wider world history and of the wide diversity of human experience. The GCSE in history should include at least one British in-depth study and at least one European or wider world in-depth study from the three specified eras. There is significant scope for the teaching of black history within those eras. As I said, two exam boards—OCR and AQA—provide options to study migration in Britain and how this country’s history has been shaped by black and minority ethnic communities in the past.

Many of the issues discussed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and Members intervening on her can be taught in other curriculum subjects. As part of a broad and balanced curriculum, pupils should be taught about different societies and how different groups have contributed to the development of Britain, including the voices and experiences of black and minority ethnic people. Across citizenship, English, PSHE education, arts, music and geography, teachers have opportunities to explore black and minority ethnic history further with their pupils, helping to build understanding and tolerance.

The UK has a tremendous history of standing up for freedom and tolerance around the world, from Magna Carta and Oliver Cromwell’s readmission of the Jews to the Royal Navy’s five-decade campaign against the slave trade, which captured hundreds of slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans. Black and minority ethnic Britons have played a fundamental part in our island’s story, from black Tudors to the Commonwealth soldiers who served with such distinction in two world wars. It is right that our current curriculum ensures that children have the opportunity to learn about them in school. At the same time, schools must be mindful of their duty of political impartiality under the Education Act 1996. Teaching should be inclusive, not divisive, as my hon. Friend Tom Hunt said, and the curriculum must never be co-opted to promote a narrative that is extreme or one-sided.

Polling earlier this summer from Policy Exchange’s history project, chaired by the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, found that 69% of people rightly believed that UK history as a whole was something to be proud of, while only 17% thought it was something to be ashamed of. Similarly, large majorities were found to be in support of retaining statues of our great heroes, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Nelson, as well as national memorials such as the Cenotaph. As the Prime Minister has said, we should not be embarrassed about our history, and we should celebrate and honour it. At the same time, we should celebrate the voices of those who may not have been heard as strongly in the past.