History Curriculum: Migration — [Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:24 am on 18th June 2019.

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[Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 2:30 pm, 18th June 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered teaching migration in the history curriculum.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir Gary. At the end of last year, I joined a group of young students, members of the brilliant Advocacy Academy in my constituency, in a protest outside the Department for Education. They were delivering a letter to the Secretary of State, and their message was simple:

“Our history is British history.”

Their history—that of a diverse group of young south Londoners—is the history of our nation, and the history curriculum taught in our schools should reflect that.

I was extremely disappointed with the Minister’s response to that letter. It did not really acknowledge any deficiency in the current curriculum; it pointed to flexibility within the curriculum as evidence that there is no problem, and confirmed that the Government have no plans to change it. I am pleased to have secured this debate, because the Minister’s response ignored some really significant issues.

In preparing for the debate, I have drawn on research by the Runnymede Trust and the Royal Historical Society and on engagement work undertaken by the parliamentary digital engagement team. I thank everyone who took part in the online survey on this topic, the results of which I will return to later.

More than one in six children aged nought to 15 in England and Wales are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. BAME young people make up more than a quarter of state-funded primary and secondary school pupils in England, but despite Britain’s increasingly diverse classrooms, and notwithstanding some recent changes in the options available in the curriculum, the history taught in schools remains focused on narrow and celebrated accounts of “our island story”. As one young person who responded to the Runnymede Trust’s consultation said,

“it’s the Tudors and the Tudors and the Tudors”.

The approach that predominates in history teaching often results in an understanding that is incomplete and inaccurate. Students struggle to connect different periods in our history, to connect British history to the wider global story, or to place themselves within the narrative. Yet British history is the history of migration to these islands. None of our families was always here. Whether our ancestors were Roman invaders, Normans from northern France, Huguenots fleeing persecution or Irish immigrants fleeing starvation during the potato famine, whether our family story is rooted in the painful, shameful history of the colonisation of parts of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, or whether our forebears came to the UK as freed slaves in the 19th century or as Commonwealth citizens after the second world war, all of us can find our story in the history of migration. Teaching that history from every possible perspective helps us to find that story.

Migration has shaped not only individual family stories, but places and communities. The town where I grew up, Ormskirk in Lancashire, has a Viking name. We have Roman cities such as Bath; cities such as Liverpool and Bristol with links to the shameful history of slavery; and Spitalfields, which has been formed, shaped and sustained by successive generations of migrants, as is powerfully illustrated by the mosque on Brick Lane, which was previously a synagogue and, before that, a Huguenot chapel. Every community, as well as every family, has a migration story.

A migration-focused approach to British history both globalises it, placing it within a wider international context, and localises it, opening up previously marginalised and untold stories about specific times and places, yet the history curriculum is struggling to engage students from all backgrounds. The Royal Historical Society’s race, ethnicity and equality report, which was published in October 2018, highlights the low uptake of history as a school subject by BAME pupils and the low levels of undergraduate history admissions for BAME students.

Racial and ethnic inequality affects history more acutely than most other disciplines. What we were taught in history lessons in school has a huge impact on our understanding of history, yet history is not a science; it is never complete and is never completely objective. Sources and perspectives matter. Whose story is told, and from which perspective, informs our understanding of who was important and powerful, who contributed, who were the heroes and who were the villains. A partial telling can leave people and communities entirely invisible and leave stories that affected hundreds of thousands of people completely untold. The way in which history is currently taught contains too many artificial binaries, such as world versus British history, or BAME versus British history. World history is British history, and BAME history is British history too.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (International Development)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. She is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that, to genuinely recognise the contribution of communities that have come to the United Kingdom, we need to teach an honest history of Britain, including the repression and exploitation that has occurred in its name, alongside the positive and progressive parts?

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

That is exactly the argument I will go on to make: a migration-focused articulation of British history is also a more accurate, rigorous and—as my hon. Friend rightly says—honest version of British history. That is a really important point.

The understanding that we derive from history lessons in school informs our sense of national identity. It informs the internal narrative that runs in each of our minds when we hear the word “British”—who is included in that term, and who is not. Too often, what we are taught in school leads to a characterisation of Britishness that is only partial. During the Windrush scandal last year, Ministers had to be reminded again and again in the House of Commons Chamber that the citizens who had been denied their right to be in the UK by the Home Office were not foreign nationals whose status was in doubt, but British citizens. They had come to the UK as British citizens as a consequence of the British Nationality Act 1948, which granted citizenship to Commonwealth citizens—itself a consequence of the long and painful history of British colonialism.

The current history curriculum offers some opportunity to teach migration, but there is little explicit focus on internal racial and ethnic diversity within Britain. It also tends to downplay our internal diverse histories; in addition to race, they include gender, class, sexuality and religion.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing this subject to Westminster Hall. When we talk about migration, we cannot ignore the fact that our great nation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, came together with the integration of the Ulsterman and the Ulsterwoman from Northern Ireland, the Scots, the Welsh and, to a lesser degree, people from the Republic of Ireland. All those five nations coming together as one—surely that tells us how we can do things if we do them the right way. It is unfortunate that none of our Scots Nats friends is here to hear this, because it is important that we say it and say it often: we are better together.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point.

In 2016, two new OCR and AQA exam board units on migration to Britain were introduced at GCSE level, both of which include some coverage of empire. They offer exciting and innovative opportunities to engage with important British histories, but they remain optional, and there are some structural barriers to take-up that I hope the Minister might address.

Over the past 10 years, in partnership with Manchester and Cambridge Universities, the Runnymede Trust has led a number of projects to engage young people and teachers with more expansive, representative and inclusive histories of Britain. The lesson from that work is that there is a strong appetite among young people from all backgrounds for history teaching that reflects a broader range of voices and experiences, and there is interest among teachers in engaging with more representative histories of Britain. But there is also a lack of confidence, support and resources for teachers who want to embed those histories in their practice, and teachers feel constrained by the increasing demands on their time and energies in a fast-changing teaching climate.

The appetite for change is also evident in feedback received by the parliamentary digital engagement team in response to a survey posted ahead of this debate. Joanne, a teacher, wrote:

“This would enrich the curriculum by demonstrating that migration had a key role to play in the formation of a more inclusive national identity. It would also offer opportunities for a wider range of voices and perspectives to be heard and valued within our history teaching—crucial for us as a nation moving forward.”

Nick, who is also a teacher, wrote:

“I find that students are usually interested in migration but it is often very new to them, reflecting a wider lack of knowledge about migration in wider society. It helps students realise the connections between history and geography and provides a glimpse of the big answers about the composition of modern society, culture, language and food.”

Interest also extends beyond the teaching profession. John, an immigration solicitor, wrote:

“It’s amazing to think how little we are taught about our awful past relationship with the colonies and indeed our closest neighbouring country, Ireland. Had more people been educated about the colonies and Ireland, there may be more understanding now of the issues we face in modern times, including the Windrush scandal and the Brexit disagreements over the Irish border issue. Forgetting our past is a real failing.”

Following the work of the Runnymede Trust, a web-based resource called Our Migration Story was launched in 2016, in direct response to requests from teachers for classroom-ready materials on histories of empire and migration. Our Migration Story was built in collaboration with more than 80 academic and local historians; local and national museums and archives, including the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives, the Black Cultural Archives, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Migration Museum; and exam boards, teachers and professional history associations.

Our Migration Story is a one-stop shop on Britain’s long migration history, from Roman invasion to the present day. Through a series of case studies driven by historical research and primary source material it presents the stories of the people, ideas and objects from near and far that have travelled to and then shaped the British Isles over the last 2,000 years.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way again; her speech, including its introduction, is excellent. Does she agree that it is essential that our children understand the importance of how migrants have flocked to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for years and have integrated well into our systems? It is important to understand that not all immigrants wish to have “their” country and “our” country; indeed, our country is made up of those who live here, integrate and raise their children to be British, and who have made this nation as great as it is today. In my constituency, there are Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, Chinese, people from eastern Europe, and people from Nigeria and Kenya. All those people together have made this nation great.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, and his point is very well made. If we teach our history with a migration narrative, everybody in our society can understand exactly the diversity of which he spoke so well.

Our Migration Story challenges us to rethink British history by capturing the histories of ordinary and otherwise marginalised Britons; by charting histories of welcome and inclusion, as well as those of rejection, exclusion, inequality and violence; by placing histories and conditions of global connectedness at its core; and by making mainstream British identity inseparable from 2,000 years of migration and settlement. The site connects its content with the national curriculum, and it has received several awards. It adopts a rigorous and academically recognised approach; in fact, it reflects the way that history is already often taught at universities.

Even in some of the most diverse communities, such as those in my constituency, our understanding of the history of migration is often limited. Lambeth Archives has just opened a fantastic exhibition at Lambeth town hall called “Before and After Windrush: 350 years of Black People in Lambeth”. It has been curated in response to the assumption that many people made during last year’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush that there had been no black people living in Lambeth prior to 1948, and it charts the area’s history from the first record of a black person living in Lambeth in 1661 to the present day. That longevity is so significant for our current community. We have always been diverse; people from across the world have always contributed to community life in Lambeth. People from everywhere belong here. As the Windrush anniversary logo, which was designed by young people from Brixton, reflected, the Windrush generation are part of our DNA, but long before 1948 our DNA was international.

My plea to the Minister today is not to dismiss this research, as he did back in January, but to engage with it. In our society, which is both diverse and riven with divisions, we need the teaching of history to be inclusive, we need everyone to be able to find their place in it and we need our definition of “British”, based on our understanding of history, to be inclusive. That means not only making migration content available, but signposting it effectively and considering making more of it compulsory. It also means making additional training and continuing professional development available to teachers to equip them with the confidence to teach new material. To return to where I started, it means working to realise a vision in which everyone in our diverse country, whatever their heritage, can say with pride and confidence: “Our history is British history.”

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:45 pm, 18th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary.

It is also a pleasure to follow Helen Hayes, but I will take a slightly different approach to her on this issue. Before I do so, however, I should declare an interest; I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and I state that now because I will use examples from the Royal Geographical Society as I continue.

The point I want to make is essentially this: what the hon. Lady has described as “history” is really “geography”. I know that we could argue for ages about the difference between the two, but I agree that what she has described is appropriate for teaching. I just think that it should be taught under a geographical syllabus rather than under a historical one. I will also give some examples of what the Royal Geographical Society already offers, which schools are already taking up to take forward the teaching of these issues.

The first example is an international one, which is material that is made available to answer the question, “Why has unprecedented migration occurred in the Mediterranean in recent years?” The sort of material that the RGS has produced is related to the work of Professor Heaven Crawley, who has done a lot of work with 500 migrants; that is the actual physical work of interviewing them and talking to them. They have shared their experience of what has driven them to migrate, and of how they went about migrating. That is a valuable lesson to be learned from migrants. Professor Crawley has concentrated a lot on the UK, so let me turn to some of the things on offer from the UK.

One of them is about migration and the skills and job market. What it sets out to do is to get students thinking about who is migrating, about the impacts that migration has made, and about how the current financial crisis may affect patterns and volumes of migration. That brings the course right up to date, to include a lot of the political aspects of migration, because geography is about the current politics and sociology of the situation.

I will give another example. Our Migration Story has made available to schools a series of courses that answer the question, “How has our local area been shaped by migration?” That includes a lot of the historical background that the hon. Lady mentioned, and the sort of questions that it asks include, “How might migrant groups change the local area?” It also asks, “What evidence is there to show how migrant groups have changed the local area over time?” And it goes on to ask, “How has that changed over time and how can we identify the different parts of it?”

Our Migration Story also looks at the background of migrants, including the fact that many of them have come from a small number of countries over the years, although that number is now increasing. So, comparisons can be made between the two—that is, between the UK and other countries.

Another example that I think will appeal to Opposition Members is “Migrants on the margins”. That too is produced by the Royal Geographical Society and includes a range of posters, podcasts, animations, videos, factsheets and lesson plans for teachers. It has been funded by the global learning programme, and provides the context for the idea of migrants on the margins, covering things such as how cities are changing, the causes of migration and why people move. The materials being produced by the Royal Geographical Society are very good and should not go unnoticed.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Does the Royal Geographical Society take cognisance of the persecution of those with religious beliefs across the world, in particular Christians, and of how they have migrated because of that? Is that part of the background that the society uses? If it is not, may I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he proposes, as a member of the society, that it should be?

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I have not seen in any of the material any detailed work on that, but I suspect that it is included as part of the thinking that goes on to produce the result. The subject that he identifies is valuable in teaching, in understanding not just how things have happened historically but how they are still happening to Christian groups around the world. I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point.

The last Royal Geographical Society project is a complex one, but it starts from the position that although migration to Britain in the past has been overwhelmingly the story of a small number of nations, recent immigrants have come from a larger number and the numbers of immigrants who were born in the Caribbean and, indeed, in Ireland—traditionally key migrant groups—have fallen and the numbers of others have risen in their place.

In summary, why do I think that this is more part of geography? We have seen the historical context in all the modules put forward by the Royal Geographical Society, but migration is about place. It is about spatial relationships and it is also about social science, and I think that the issues about place and spatial relationships are more appropriate to a geographical course, given that those modules are already being offered.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn 2:52 pm, 18th June 2019

Thank you, Mr Streeter. I, too, apologise to my hon. Friend Lyn Brown. She has been in the House a lot longer than I have and perhaps should have been called first.

I am passionate about history—one of my proudest boasts is that I am a history graduate—and I want to talk about how history is taught in schools, about how a subject about the human life story is often seen as boring and dry. It amazes me that we are so narrow in our curriculum, in how we speak. I did GCSE history, and I could sum it up like this: there was Adolf Hitler’s Germany, which I studied in depth, then crime and punishment, which was mainly about Jack the Ripper, and then we did the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that was it. I then did my A-levels and we did the Tudors and the civil war, and even when we talked about people we talked about them as great people. We talked about Elizabeth I, yet we did not talk about her persecution of Catholicism. We talked about Oliver Cromwell and the new model army but we did not talk about the terrible events at Drogheda. We smooth over those awful events while we are talking about great men.

When we are talking about such things, we also seem to forget about the growth in family history. Right now, people who study history in their spare time, through the various family history websites, want the answers to two questions: who am I, and where did I come from? It is time to do that in schools. I want to use the example of when I visited the Fleur-de-Lys local history society and spoke about a former Member of this House, S. O. Davies. He was deselected by the Labour Party in 1970, was then re-elected as an independent and died in 1972. He was the first person to introduce a Bill to bring in the Welsh Parliament. After the lecture, we started talking about oral history and its importance. There were so many people in that room.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I want to reflect on what the hon. Gentleman said about when he was at school. In my early years at school—long before he was at school of course—our religious and history teacher gave us the opportunity to learn Irish history along with British history, and also about other religions, thereby giving us a perspective on the rest of the world. It is good to know that that did not make me less of a Unionist, by the way—I would just like Members to know that. It is important to have that.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

That is very interesting. The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point. I did not study Irish history until my third year. I hold my hands up that I did not know who Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera were. I knew nothing about the cause of the troubles. When I was growing up, the troubles were just something that happened over the Irish Sea in places I did not recognise but if I had been taught about it I would have understood where the troubles began. That, essentially, is what I am getting to.

Coming back to my upbringing in south Wales, on every street corner there was a Bacchetta, a Gamberini, a Sidoli; the Italian community migrated into south Wales and set up cafés, ice cream parlours and other things. The story of south Wales is also the story of migration. Many of the pits and steelworks came about from people migrating in for the work, yet we never talked about that. Interestingly, I grew up in Lower Bailey Street in Wattstown in the Rhondda but I did not know who Bailey was. He was a guy called Crawshay Bailey, a landowner from Northumberland who had never visited south Wales.

What is so important about these migrant stories—we see this with the Windrush generation as well—is the question of how many of us sit down with a relative or an elderly friend and record their experiences. Their experiences are the experiences of Great Britain, and that is what I am talking about in my example of the Fleur de Lys local history society. We were sitting there just as Tower colliery was closed—the last deep mine in south Wales. The number of people who remember the mines and have experience of working underground is getting smaller, and we need to sit down and record those experiences, because once they are gone they are gone forever. I urge everyone here to sit down with a friend or relative and talk about their experiences. I direct this to the Minister: this is something we should seriously look at having on the curriculum. We should get schoolchildren to speak to their relatives, and ask them to keep an archive of those relatives’ experiences, especially as they are now getting old.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about migration and the history of those coming into communities in south Wales. Of course, many from south Wales went to Chile and other parts of the world, to mine there. So we have had migration out of the country, when people have been seeking employment.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

My favourite fact is always that in Pennsylvania in the 1920s there were more Welsh speakers than in Wales. That came from Welsh migrants going to West Virginia and Pennsylvania to work in the mines. We also have the famous colony in Patagonia, which was set out in the famous novel “How Green Was My Valley”.

We need to be a bit braver about our history, about our history as an island race, as my hon. Friend Helen Hayes said. We have to accept that slavery happened. We talk about it a lot when we talk about American history. We touched on it a lot when I was at university—

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman indicated that we should be a bit more brave in remembering our history. Does he agree that it is sometimes regrettable that in recent years we have seen student campaigns in a small number of educational establishment to remove links to Rhodesia, for example, because of the perception of what happened there? It is not much better to recognise and acknowledge that those things happened, whether we agree or disagree, rather than trying to obliterate them, particularly in seats of learning?

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

That is the whole point of this debate: we cannot whitewash our past. These things happened; we should recognise them, and we should learn lessons so they never happen again.

The Department for Education itself said in 2014 that the teaching of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade was considered patchy. We should accept that for well over 300 years, whether we like it or not, Britain played a leading role in forcing Africans on to slave ships for transportation across the Atlantic ocean. It is not just America that has to take the blame for the slave trade; it is this country. When Britain abolished slavery in its colonies in 1830, it paid the slave owners financial compensation. The enslaved people themselves received absolutely nothing—okay, that was a long time ago, but there were 46,000 slave owners, and 3,500 lived in Britain. Those are truths that we should not be afraid to address.

In response to the earlier intervention from Jim Shannon, I made a point about not understanding history until I got to university and studied it in more depth. I understand Dr Deana Heath, who teaches southern Asian, imperial, colonial and global history at the University of Liverpool, when she says:

“I face an uphill struggle at the start of each new academic year. Many of the undergraduates who greet me know virtually nothing about any of the subjects I teach.”

When I went to university to study history, I was one of those undergraduates. It was not just Irish history that I did not know about; it was British history, and the terrible record of the colonies.

This issue is really important, so I have two asks of the Minister. First, I hope that he takes seriously the idea of putting oral history at the front and centre of the curriculum. Secondly, although we have a great history, we should also shine a light on those things that are uncomfortable for us, because if we do not learn from those mistakes, we run the serious risk of repeating them. I urge the Minister, who I know is a good and thoughtful man, to take those points on board.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:01 pm, 18th June 2019

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Gary, and it is a real honour to follow my hon. Friend Chris Evans, who made a passionate and pertinent speech. I also thank my hon. Friend Helen Hayes for securing today’s debate, and for her superb opening speech.

Three of my four grandparents were Irish, and my much-loved brother-in-law is of Jamaican descent. Without him, I would not have my very beloved niece. Migration is central to who we are as a family, and it is also central to who we are as a nation. Only by understanding where we come from can we truly understand where we are going and where we are now. Including stories about migration in our history lessons is a central part of that, and I am proud that Labour has committed to creating an emancipation educational trust to support that work.

It is hardly news to many of us that migration has shaped our country for centuries, because we have grown up in diverse communities and have ourselves been shaped by that history. However, the history of different types of migration is not taught as widely as it should be. So many people do not know that there were hundreds of free African people living and working during the Tudor period, and some were even at Elizabeth I’s court. We seem to think that migration is only a very recent thing, but that is a nonsense. We need to embrace and understand our history much better than we currently do.

I am going to take a different approach from that of the other Members who have given speeches so far, because I will talk about West Ham. In my maiden speech in 2005, I talked about one example of how migration has helped in Newham. In the 1980s, we were suffering from the dying docks and the ravages of Thatcherism. Green Street was dying on its feet; the only two things that were doing well were West Ham United football club—which had its best ever season in 1986—and, sadly, the local jobcentre. However, a few traders got together, who were overwhelmingly Asian and African-Caribbean, and took a risk. They got some money together and started rejuvenating the area through their businesses. First they sold food, then fabrics—things that the big chains would not touch—and then businesses focused on designer fashion and jewellery came slowly on to Green Street.

Now, Green Street is a one-stop wedding shop, serving not only the local community but people from all over the country and, indeed, much of Europe. Without migration, those community-spirited and canny traders would not have been in Newham, and our local economy would have suffered an even worse decline. My kitchen would have certainly declined, because there was nowhere that I could buy turmeric, chillies, coriander, cumin or the other exotic items in the new cookbooks that were stocking my shelves at that time. On Christmas day, I remember having to pop out a number of times to grab that thing that I had not managed to put in my basket before. That is a recent history, but none the less an important history, and one that risks being lost unless we make an effort to ensure it is remembered and celebrated.

Whenever I think about stuff like this, I think about Eastside Community Heritage, led by the redoubtable Judith Garfield. Eastside has always been clear that letting people own and tell their stories is the best way of collecting testimonies and engaging communities in their past, and that is exactly what they do. Unsurprisingly, many of their projects are focused on the contribution of migrants—people such as Kamal Chunchie, who was born in Sri Lanka and served in the Army’s 3rd Middlesex Regiment during the first world war alongside members of my family, witnessing horrifying conditions in the trenches. He was gassed twice and shot once, and served right up until the end of the war. After the war, he came back to Canning Town and served that community for the rest of his life. He established the Coloured Men’s Institute and provided solidarity and means of support for black and Asian families living around the docks. Disgracefully, racism was common at that time, and many living in and around those docks were denied a home and a living. Kamal’s institute became a community centre that served all the poor and needy in Canning Town, providing shelter, regular meals, Christmas celebrations and toys for children. Over the course of the 1920s and 1930s, his work prevented destitution, alleviated poverty and built solidarity. For that, he was greatly and rightly loved.

Eastside has created a number of projects, including those on the Ugandan Asian community; on the role of nurses from the Caribbean in building our NHS, such as my brother-in-law’s mum, Lucy; and on historic communities in Newham, such as the Chinese and Bengali communities. I have attended lots and lots of Eastside’s events, which are wonderfully informative, telling stories that would otherwise be simply forgotten. Several of those projects have been created in collaboration with our schools, including Sarah Bonnell and Forest Gate, so that our children understand the rich diversity of their history. Students helped create exhibitions about African and Caribbean fashion and the role it has played in the local economy, our culture and our lives. I would have loved to take part in projects like that, growing up; I was always really excited by the beautiful clothes that my Asian friends wore, and I remember learning how to dance in the sixth-form common room. Such projects bring our history alive for children from all backgrounds, and help us to understand the current social problems that we have.

One pressing social problem today is that across the world, we are witnessing a resurgence in far-right politics—a politics of hatred and division, which offers only scapegoats, not solutions. All too often across the world, migrants—even asylum seekers, the most vulnerable of us all—have been targeted. I do not have to remind people in this Chamber about Trump, whether it is his nonsense about Sadiq Khan, his attempt to enforce a Muslim ban, or his constant scaremongering about central American families fleeing to safety. I do not have to remind people in this Chamber about Netanyahu, who describes African refugees as,

“illegal infiltrators flooding the country.”

Brazil’s Bolsonaro described the residents of a black settlement as,

“not even good for procreation.”

It happens in so many ways in so many places, and all of it is linked. It is more important than ever that our young people understand the bits of this country’s history that we do not celebrate enough and the rich diversity of our home’s past and future. We need all of our citizens to understand the contributions and the lives of the people that migration has brought, and we have to build solidarity among the different parts of our communities, just as Kamal did in the 1920s.

In my constituency, Newham Council has done wonderful work to counter and prevent the rise of the far right. It has done it for decades and it set up a holocaust memorial exhibition as a response to the rise of the far right in the 1980s and ’90s. It celebrates Black History Month and still makes sure that the children’s education focuses on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour/Co-operative, Islwyn

As usual, my hon. Friend makes a powerful speech. Will she join me in encouraging everybody to visit the Mary Seacole statue, which is just across the road outside St Thomas’ Hospital, to see the wonderful contribution that she made as a British Jamaican woman to nursing in this country?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Mary Seacole is somebody that Lucy, my mother-in-law, speaks of regularly, and she does not understand why she is not recognised as fully as Nurse Nightingale. So, yes, I would encourage people to explore and discover parts of our history that are not as prevalent and as in your face as some of the other stuff.

The work of the council continues today. As we all remember, the theme for the previous Holocaust Memorial Day was “Torn from home”. Schools in Newham not only used it to reflect on the experiences of the Jewish community who were forced to leave everything behind, incredibly important as that absolutely is, but used it as a theme for creative inspiration—for the writing of poetry, performances of plays and the composing of songs about the lives of their families and the communities that they had come from, which, in many cases, had also been torn from home. Their experiences today are reflected sadly in our history.

Many have forgotten that Irish migrants were subjected to terrible xenophobia and discrimination during the 19th century and into the 20th. We forget that Jewish migration was represented as a real threat. We have learnt not to think of the Huguenots from France as refugees. The world did not come to a stop when those communities joined us; our world was enriched instead. What I am trying to say is that we sometimes fail to make the connections that we should because we have simply forgotten our history—or our geography.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I will not pick the hon. Lady up on that point, but has she seen the BBC’s “Born Abroad” pages, which take a fantastic look at diversity in Wembley?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have not, but I certainly will. As soon as I get back to my office, I will have a quick butcher’s.

Constituencies such as mine have been blessed with diversity. We include Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, Africans, Caribbeans, Irish and many others in our number. When we hosted the Olympic games—it was not a London Olympics, but a West Ham Olympics—we believed that we had a resident representative from every participating country living right there in West Ham. Many in my community have immigrant backgrounds, as do some of my closest and dearest family. It simply would not be the place that I love so dearly without them; and we would be much poorer, not only economically but creatively, in terms of the ideas and perspectives that we can draw on. We would be able to communicate so much worse if we did not have those communities living with us, talking with each other and learning from perspectives. Imbibing the cultures and the stories helps us to communicate so much better as a society. That is why it is really important to me that children are taught to see migration for what it is—not just economically beneficial and not just a charitable act, but unreservedly good for our communities and absolutely essential for our future.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

We now come to the Front-Bench wind-up speeches, after which Helen Hayes will have the final two minutes.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 3:15 pm, 18th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Gary. I congratulate my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on securing this important debate. She made an absolutely barnstorming speech, as is her custom, on teaching migration in the history curriculum. I also congratulate John Howell, although I am not sure I agree that migration should be taught as human geography or ethnographic studies. I think it enriches our history when we talk about migration, and it should sit within the history curriculum.

My hon. Friend Chris Evans made powerful points about how the mining community of south Wales has influenced North and South America, but we have to remember how the South Americans have also influenced West Ham. The Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini, and the Argentinian, Pablo Zabaleta, led West Ham to one of its best seasons in many a year, although I would say they were mainly immigrants from Manchester and Manchester City.

I am pleased to be able to respond to the debate, whose subject is close to my heart. Manchester, where I am from, has a rich tradition of inward migration. It was originally founded in AD 79 by the general Agricola, a Gallo-Roman immigrant to Britain, who some said was black. My city has a long history of welcoming migrants from around the world. I am a Mancunian son of two Irish immigrants who settled there as part of a large Irish community in the north-west of England. Britain’s second largest Jewish community calls Manchester home. We have a large Somali community, and Wythenshawe and Sale East, which I represent, has a thriving Chagossian community. We de-populated the Chagos Islands in the late 1960s to give the land to the Americans for the Diego Garcia airbase—the mother of all injustices inflicted on any settlement on the planet in modern times. We recently had an International Court of Justice judgment against the UK, so we are still seeking justice after 50 or 60 years, but the Chagossians bring a rich tapestry to life in south Manchester.

More recently, we have had immigration from India, and the Keralan community has come to populate our hospitals with nurses. Suddenly, on a huge council estate in Wythenshawe, we have Keralans who believe that St Thomas the Apostle directly proselytised their people when he left Jerusalem after the ascension of Christ. Thousands descend on our community to decorate our church and parade in our streets, and they make a huge contribution both culturally and to our NHS.

I have seen at first hand how important it is to teach a curriculum that represents and is relevant to our children. When I was a primary teacher in a school on the banks of the Bridgewater Canal, where I was the history co-ordinator, we did not teach the industrial revolution; we taught the Manchester revolution. We taught about the Duke of Bridgewater building his canal in 1661 and about how that brought coal from the Cheshire plain to Manchester city centre to power Arkwright’s mill on Miller Street 20 years later, which changed the face of the world. I was also the history co-ordinator who introduced Black History Month when it came into being, and we dedicated the month of October to it. A tailored, local approach to history teaching needs to include an accurate and representative British history and the important part that migration has played in the development of our country.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood said, 27% of BAME students in state-funded schools currently have a low take-up of history at key stage 4 and beyond. Research by the Royal Historical Society shows that racial and ethnic inequality affect history more acutely than most disciplines. As has already been said, the Runnymede Trust has shown that, although the national curriculum in theory offers a broader range of diverse histories, in practice there are constraints on what is taught. Labour has pledged to ensure that schools teach black history—we celebrate Black History Month in October—and that would give us an important opportunity to understand the role and legacy of the British empire, colonialism and slavery. The British history taught in schools needs to move beyond binaries of black history versus British history. As has been said, black history is British history. To allow a full, accurate and representative British history to be taught, we must lift the structural constraints holding back teachers. They need to be given access to the resources, teacher training and support necessary to teach a complete version of our national story.

I was pleased to be able to sponsor one of the great consultants in my local hospital, Binita Kane, who was a star in the show about partition that some Members may have seen. The BBC did a show on the 70th anniversary of partition and its impact on the nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Imagine, Sir Gary, that you had been in Manchester on Sunday. Oh my word, there were only 26,000 tickets for the global show of India versus Pakistan—the most globally viewed sporting event ever, we think. On the night of the local government elections, I was at the place where we hold them, in Trafford, chatting to the chief executive of Lancashire Cricket Club, and he said that 1.2 million people had applied for tickets for the game. But how many of our young people know how the conflict was driven and what happened to millions of people in the area during partition?

To allow a full, accurate and representative British history to be taught, we must lift the structural constraints. Labour’s schools policy would tackle that. We announced at the National Education Union conference earlier this year that Labour will scrap key stage 1 and key stage 2 SATs, replacing them with a more flexible and practical primary assessment system. The new system will free teachers up so that they can better deliver a rich and varied curriculum. We also committed, in our manifesto, to launching a commission on the curriculum, which will give politicians a chance to listen to everyone. The commission will allow input from experts across all subjects, including on issues such as the one we are debating. It is not good enough in this day and age that the way to change society should be for MPs to raise curriculum change in this place. That is how change was made to the sex and relationships curriculum—on the back of an amendment to the Children and Social Work Act 2017. We have to do better than that when it comes to designing the country’s curriculum. Evidence shows that when children are taught a wide-ranging curriculum and encouraged to be creative and to develop their imagination, they do better at the core elements of literacy and numeracy too.

We cannot ignore the pressures of the Government’s sustained funding cuts. The figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies could not be clearer: they show an 8% real-terms cut since the last Labour Government. We cannot expect teachers to be able to teach the curriculum they want, including a more diverse history of migration, when they face such huge pressures. Labour’s national education service will re-fund our schools, ensuring that all the fantastic teachers have the resources they need to give our children a proper, world-class education. It will also provide practical help for today’s migrants. It will end cuts to English for speakers of other languages—a vital resource for refugees who have sought asylum in Britain. The Government talk about the importance of ensuring that everyone has the chance to learn English, but over the past decade funding for ESOL has been drastically cut. More than £100 million has been taken from the budget—a real-terms cut of almost 60%.

As my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock has noted, victims of trafficking and modern slavery who are freed in Britain—the Prime Minister must be thanked for her work on that—are often denied access to education by the Government’s rules. We must learn the lessons of the Windrush scandal. Denying the victims an education is both cruel and senseless. The Windrush scandal has been a shame on our country. It was born as a result of the Home Office’s hostile environment—this Government’s policy. It is a story of injustices and migration that highlights the importance of teaching migration in schools so that the Ministers of the future do not make the same mistake. In Labour’s national education service, every child will have not only access to a world-leading school system, but the opportunity to engage in a wide-ranging, accurate and reflective curriculum.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 3:24 pm, 18th June 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship yet again, Sir Gary. I congratulate Helen Hayes on securing the debate and on an excellent opening speech. I am aware that she has a deep interest in the topic of migration, and that her interests also extend to teaching and schools.

Migration has been a part of our country’s history as long as we have been able to record it. The different waves of migration to these islands have helped to form our national identity and created and developed distinct regional and local identities, as we have heard in some excellent speeches. There are many opportunities within the scope of the framework of the national curriculum for teaching about migration and its causes and effects, both within the history curriculum and in other subject areas. As my hon. Friend John Howell pointed out, it can come within geography.

The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood cited a pupil who complained that the history curriculum was focused on

“the Tudors and the Tudors and the Tudors”.

I share that concern about what is a consequence of a skills-based rather than knowledge-based history curriculum, introduced in the revision of 2007. However, that approach was also predominant before the last Labour Government in the 1990s and it is probably the reason Chris Evans was not taught about de Valera, whereas I had been taught, of course, about him and about the whole issue of Ireland. We have sought since 2010 to ensure that the curriculum is knowledge-based and does not just focus on a narrow range of knowledge as a vehicle for teaching a range of so-called historical skills.

The hon. Member for Islwyn talked about key stage 3 and said we only teach the good. At key stage 3 there are some non-statutory examples in the history programme of things that are not necessarily—or definitely not—good things. For example the transatlantic slave trade and Ireland and home rule are in that curriculum. The development of the British empire is also an example of an in-depth study.

I listened carefully to the hugely interesting speech of Lyn Brown who gave examples of the effect on her community of different phases of immigration over the years. That gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to Sir Robin Wales who, when he was the directly elected Labour Mayor of Newham, did so much to raise education standards in Newham’s schools. It is now one of the highest-performing education authorities, particularly for the teaching of reading and phonics. I like to take an opportunity to praise Sir Robin whenever I can.

The Government believe that all children and young people should, as part of a broad and balanced education, acquire a firm grasp of the history of the country in which they live, and how different events and periods relate to each other. The reformed history curriculum has been taught since September 2014. It sets out the core knowledge that will enable pupils to know and understand the history of Britain from its first settlers to the development of the institutions that help to define our national life today. We have also included history and geography in the English baccalaureate school performance measure. Since the EBacc was introduced in 2010, the proportion of pupils taking history or geography GCSE has increased from 47.7% in 2010 to 78.3% last year. Provisional entry data recently released by Ofqual indicate that that trend will continue in 2019.

The programmes of study for history set the framework for the teaching of the subject in schools in terms of the broad time periods to be taught. Within that framework, the Government have ensured that decisions about the detail of what will be taught, and choices about teaching approaches and resources, are for schools and teachers to determine. One of the key aims of the history curriculum is to ensure that pupils know and understand how Britain has influenced and been influenced by the wider world. That aim supports teachers to teach about migration and to teach pupils about how different cultures and different groups have contributed to the development of Britain at key stages of our country’s history.

Let me highlight examples of where teaching about migration might be included within different key stages of the national curriculum. At key stage 1, pupils should be taught about events that are significant nationally or globally; about the names and lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements; about significant historical events; and about people and places in their own locality. An example of migration in that framework is that teachers can teach the life stories of refugees.

Within key stage 2, pupils should be taught about the changes in Britain from the stone age to the iron age; the Roman empire—including Agricola—and its effect on Britain; Britain’s settlement by Anglo-Saxons and Scots; and how the Vikings affected Britain and its development. Teachers can teach pupils about the connection between migration and those aspects of the curriculum. At key stage 3—that is secondary school—pupils should be taught about the history of Britain from 1066 to the present day, and the effect over time of the migration of people to, from and within the British Isles. The end of the British empire, and social and cultural change in post-war British society are given as specific examples of what can be taught at key stage 3. As part of a compulsory unit on a broad aspect or theme in British history, 11 to 14-year-olds may study an aspect of social history. That could focus on migration as a particular area to help to understand key changes in our history.

At GCSE, specifications in history should support students to learn more about the history of Britain and the wider world, and to deepen their understanding of the people, periods and events studied. There are clear opportunities to include migration as part of the rich subject knowledge that we expect pupils to be taught. Awarding organisations and exam boards have flexibility to offer a greater focus on particular knowledge areas within the GCSE subject content, and modules on migration form part of the GCSEs offered by a number of exam boards. The influence and effect of migration locally can also be explored within the curriculum.

As part of the new GCSE history syllabus introduced in 2016 by OCR and AQA, there are now modules on migration in Britain. That gives teachers the chance sensitively to explore the fact that migration to Britain is not new but has evolved over centuries, largely because of people’s desire to have a better life for themselves or, in many cases, to seek refuge from war or hostile situations. Within the OCR GCSE, the British thematic study, “Migration to Britain circa 1000 to circa 2010”, focuses on patterns of change and continuity over a long period of British history. The study is divided into three eras. Those eras are divided into broad sections that have been chosen as vehicles through which pupils can gain knowledge about a number of key themes.

Examples of those themes include: “The reasons for immigration—differing political, economic, social and religious reasons”, and “From circa 1500: ideas of national ‘identity’—how we have come to define ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ over time”. Examples of content are time-period specific. For example, in the era circa 1000 to 1500 students should be taught content including, “Immigrants in England during the middle ages; their treatment by the authorities and the population generally; the extent to which they integrated”. For the period 1900 to around 2010, students should be taught content such as, “Immigration as a political issue circa 1990 to circa 2010: the debate over a ‘multi-cultural society’; attitudes towards, and treatment of, political refugees and asylum seekers; the issues raised by EU ‘open borders’”. Those are only some of the topic areas available within that module.

As OCR highlighted, there was an unprecedented high take-up of that option when it was introduced. In 2018, 25% of schools chose to offer OCR’s GCSE History A, and nearly 1,500 students took migration as an optional topic with OCR on GCSE History B. The AQA GCSE includes an option for a thematic study on, “Migration, empires and the people: circa 790 to the present day”. The study will enable students to gain an understanding of how the identity of the people of Britain has been shaped by their interaction with the wider world.

There are many opportunities for teachers to teach about migration within the framework of the history curriculum, and as such migration could be seen as already part of the national curriculum—I hope that reassures hon. Members. The Government have also committed to making no further reforms to the curriculum, or to GCSEs and A-levels for the remainder of this Parliament—however long it may last— beyond those already announced. We have recently reformed GCSEs and A-levels to establish a rigorous suite of new qualifications that are in line with expected standards in countries with high performing education systems. That followed a review of our national curriculum, and we believe that those extensive changes will need time to settle in, because schools and teachers want stability.

The Government welcome high-quality resources and materials being shared with teachers to support them in this subject, and more resources are becoming available for teachers. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley pointed out some good resources on migration from the Royal Geographical Society—people will no doubt read his speech with interest and google them. As the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood said, the recent collaboration between the University of Cambridge, University of Manchester and the Runnymede Trust has developed the free resource called Our Migration Story, which supports history teachers, and features video and text summaries of significant events in each era.

The Runnymede Trust has developed the History Lessons Project, and a guide for teachers called “History Lessons—Making British Histories” provides teachers with the content needed to navigate parts of the new history curriculum. It also offers resources to help teachers use the local history element of the history curriculum. As I stated previously, the local aspect of understanding history is a common thread across all key stages of the national curriculum. Significant migration points are supported by resources such as those that highlight the experiences of the Windrush generation. For example, the Windrush Foundation has developed the definitive Empire Windrush education resource for key stage 2, and an e-book about the 70 Windrush pioneers and champions. The Historical Association offers a wide collection of resources on migration, spanning different areas and stages of the curriculum.

I have picked out just a few examples, and no doubt there will be more. As the hon. Lady highlighted, the Runnymede Trust plans further to develop its work on supporting teachers to teach migration and diversity, including by supporting continuing professional development. I have focused on history in my speech, but the issue of migration features in other parts of the national curriculum such as religious education and citizenship education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley pointed out, it could also be included in geography lessons.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood for raising this important matter, and I welcome the opportunity to set out how migration is already supported within the national curriculum. As a truly diverse country it is important for children and young people to gain knowledge about how Britain has migration at its core. Our global outlook has both shaped the world and been shaped by it.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 3:37 pm, 18th June 2019

I am hugely grateful to all hon. Members who have contributed to this debate. We have heard powerful examples of untold migration stories in the communities of those who have spoken, which include West Ham, Welsh mining communities, and Wythenshawe, and all those examples serve to emphasise the importance of this agenda. As the daughter of a geographer, and someone who is married to a geographer, I will not argue with John Howell that migration is an important prism through which to teach geography. However, this is not about either/or—our whole curriculum should be inclusive within all the different disciplines on offer to students today, and the resources that he mentioned are welcome.

I am a little disappointed that the Minister did not acknowledge the need for change, which is illustrated most powerfully in the low take-up of history as a discipline by students from BAME backgrounds at GCSE, A-level and degree level. Will the Minister reflect on the need for further promotion of migration curriculum content for history, on the need for more training and CPD to give teachers confidence to teach this curriculum, and on possibly making some of that content compulsory? I hope the Minister will continue to listen to the voices of young people across the country, and to the rigorous academic research from organisations such as the Runnymede Trust, which clearly states that there is a need for change, notwithstanding some of the changes made in recent years.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered teaching migration in the history curriculum.