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Primary Education News
News Bringing balance and diversity to the new history curriculum
Having submitted his feedback on the new curriculum, Dr Matthew Wilkinson shares his ideas for plugging the gaps in Gove's plans for history
• Gove's history curriculum needs to do more to teach equality
Many stakeholders in history education in Britain have rightly pointed out that the Department for Education's draft history curriculum is unlearnable due to its simplistic chronological structure that takes no account of the different ways that children learn history at different ages.
Reading this draft curriculum one would have thought that the history of the world was almost entirely enacted by white, English, Protestants. Other people play a marginal role. Muslims and Islam, the second largest religious grouping in the UK and the world's second largest faith, whose history forms a vital part of the history of humankind, simply don't exist.
The research of Curriculum for Cohesion has shown that without any points of entry or hand holds into the national history curriculum some Muslim kids find it hard to connect positively to society at large. A lack of connection to the national narrative will leave some British Muslim youngsters vulnerable to becoming alienated with Britain and even radicalised by extreme historical narratives on the internet that demonise Britain. At the same time organisations like the English Defence League continue to stir up anti-Muslim hatred based, in part, on false historical representations of the role of Islam and historical fantasies of an all-white, all-Protestant Britain.
To help to restore balance to the situation, we simply need to teach a broader, more accurate history that places essential national events in their true international context. This will help Muslim British children understand their place in Britain and provide white English kids with better tools to engage with the global economy, much of which is centred on the Muslim-majority world. We have made three simple practical suggestions for inclusion in a national curriculum for history that will improve the quality of historical knowledge for all pupils in English schools.
Curriculum for Cohesion's research, conducted with children of all types in history classes over a period of four years, suggests that all pupils should learn firstly that Islamic civilisations made a vital contribution to the preservation of knowledge and the progress of science that was one key building blocks of the European Renaissance.
In this respect, we suggest that the significant figures that children will learn about at key stage 1 should include one great Muslim scientist. We have proposed Ibn Al-Haytham (965 – 1039), the father of optics who first discovered through empirical experimentation that we see by light hitting the eye.
Secondly, how the interaction of England and Britain with the Muslim-majority world is part of a long-standing relationship between Britain and Islam that stretches back as far as the ninth century. At key stage 2 we have suggested that children explore the trading links between Anglo-Saxon England and Muslim Spain through symbols of this positive interaction such as the Offa Dinar coin in the British Museum which bears the head of King Offa on one side and Islamic-style inscriptions on the other.
At key stage 3 we think that all children will gain a richer understanding of the early modern period by knowing that, along with Hapsburg Spain, Ottoman Turkey was the super power of the day and with which England retained continuous diplomatic relations through people like Sir William Harborne.
Thirdly, that Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus in British imperial forces made a vital contribution to the defeat of tyrannical regimes in the first world war and the second world war. Here, learning about how people called Khan and Jones fought and died alongside each other on the western front in the face of tyrannical aggression will help generate a sense of an important shared past and paint a more accurate picture of the world wars.
By integrating these simple, important historical facts within the history curriculum, we will begin to provide all children in English schools with a history education that enables them to engage knowledgeably with themselves, their classmates, their country and the rest of the world.
Dr Matthew Wilkinson is a director of Curriculum for Cohesion, a collaboration between teachers, academics and employers aimed at developing humanities education to improve the lives of young people in the 21st century. He is a former secondary school head of history.