Failing to teach Black history in schools is harming children more than you may realise

Failing to teach Black history in schools is harming children more than you may realise

The lack of Black history education in schools is contributing towards racism, The Black Curriculum has warned.

Although British schools have the option to teach Black history, shockingly few actually incorporate it into the syllabus. In fact, according to GCSE data collected by the Guardian, just 11 per cent of students are studying modules that refer to Black people’s contribution to Britain. 

Out of the 59 GCSE history modules put together by the nation’s biggest exam board, Edexcel, AQA and OCR, just five reference Black history in Britain. That's a mere 8 per cent.

During an interview with The Black Curriculum's Addie Tadesse, she explains the disturbing risks of censoring Black people from British history.

The Black Curriculum The team behind The Black Curriculum is pictured above (Credit: Supplied)

The danger of censoring Black history

"The reality is, racism operates through the lack of education and understanding of Black British histories," Tadesse tells me.

"Black youngsters are affected by things such as implicit racism bias within the curriculum. And when young people aren't being taught about their history within Britain, their sense of identity and belonging is negatively impacted, as well as their social relations."

According to the children’s charity Barnados, Black Carribean students are 3.5 times more likely to be excluded than other children. Black children are also over four times more likely to be arrested than white youths.

The Black Curriculum believes worrying statistics like this can be helped by addressing Black history education. The organisation argues that teaching young people about Black people’s contributions to Britain can not only help combat racism but improve outcomes in black communities.

"It's something that is essential when it comes to empowering [black children’s] own identities, and their identity within Britain,” Tadesse continues. “It's Black history, yes, but it's also Black British history, and seeing that included in the UK curriculum can help build generations of bright, collectivist, and forward-thinking students."

Black Lives Matter Protestors gather at the Black Lives Matter Demonstration in Parliament Square, London, in June 2020 (Credit: PA)

The danger of whitewashing history

However, the particular history that is told should be considered. Tadesse is quick to caution against teaching a curriculum that is limited to colonialism and enslavement. It's often whitewashed, she explains, and it can present Black history in a way that's limited and confined to stories of oppression, struggle, and trauma.

"We have tales of ordinary black Britons, and they date back thousands of years," she explains. "So, it's important that we introduce the really significant and positive contributions of Black British communities, and their interactions with society.''

Tadesse points out how there is plenty of literature on black Tudors, but that we're simply not taught about it. "There's John Blanke, who was a black musician in the Tudor courts in London during the early 16th century," she adds. "And if we go earlier, we had queens and princesses of African descent.

"From this, we can trace migration patterns to see how black people made their way to Britain, and how they're embedded within British history. And looking deeper into Black communities shows how their presence shaped British society - whether it comes to culture, politics, civil rights, music, or the arts."

Black Lives Matter (Credit: PA) Racism can be fought with the Black education history  (Credit: PA)

Black Lives Matter

The importance of teaching Black history was catapulted into the spotlight last year amid the Black Lives Matter movement last year. The tragic events that inspired the protests largely took place in America – including the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks. However, the implications were global with people taking to the streets all over the world to protest against racial injustice.

"Conversations around race, the Black Lives Matter movement, and anti-racism work isn't supplemented by the UK education system," adds Tadesse. "It isn't taught, it's embedded. And if it is, it's inaccurate or separatist from the consensus.

"We can see what's happened in the US, but what does this mean for us in England? We obviously haven't learnt about it in school, but there is a Black British there. Understanding it would give us a better understanding of how to move forward in society today - post-2020."

Tadesse highlights that in many instances Black history is introduced in the moment. For example, while the BLM marches were taking place. This, she stresses, is a failure. "It's important for us to remember that Black British history predates and goes beyond recent history, such as the Windrush scandal and colonialism."

Black history is British history

Ultimately, The Black Curriculum is here to encourage education at all levels. As Tadesse concedes, many educators weren't taught about Black British history themselves. This makes training schemes, like the kind provided by The Black Currciulum, so vital.

"It's really a cyclical process that needs everyone to be proactive in," she concludes, "Black history is British history. We all share it."

The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise that was founded in 2019 to address the lack of Black British history within the UK curriculum. Addie Tadesse and her team do this by going in and out of British schools to deliver arts-focused Black history programs, as well as teacher training.

*Black History Month – to fully understand the present, we must educate ourselves on the past.