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Primary Education News
News Gove's history curriculum needs to do more to teach equality
History teacher Katherine Edwards says new plans for history fail to reflect the diversity of society
• Bringing balance and diversity to the new history curriculum
One of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report on the Stephen Lawrence case was a: "National curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism," in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society. This is something the vast majority of teachers would unreservedly support whatever our views on the new curriculum. Yet we need to be clear that the draft national curriculum for history, if it comes into force, is very likely to set this cause back at least a generation. In fact it is hard to see how the Department for Education can have taken into account its legal obligations with regard to equality when devising it.
There can be few academic subjects which have greater potential both for advancing and for hindering the cause of equality through education than history. History has been hijacked in undemocratic states to incite discrimination. In contrast in Britain today it arguably helps empower minority groups and dispels prejudice.
One current GCSE pupil who is a refugee from Afghanistan and recently attended the Black and Asian Studies Association's (BASA) meeting on the new history curriculum remembered how he had been left with negative stereotypes of other races from his history lessons in Afghanistan, but how his history lessons in a multicultural London school had now challenged those and dispelled these. Another participant at the meeting, a history teacher of Ghanaian origin, described how she had been inspired partly by the study of African civilisations in a British school in the 1990s to study and ultimately to teach the subject herself. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to persist for much longer if the government's proposals are put into effect.
By marginalising and misrepresenting the role of non-white ethnic groups in British history the new curriculum is very likely to alienate and disengage children and young people, especially those of black and Asian origin, and may encourage a sense of superiority in white British pupils. Black and Asian people are excluded completely from the primary history curriculum and, apart from the token inclusions of Seacole and Equiano, they only feature as slaves in the secondary curriculum until the arrival of the Windrush Generation. British Asians only appear as refugees from East Africa. This obscures the long and important history of people of African and Asian origin in Britain and creates a false sense that ethnic diversity is something new. It might mislead people into harking back to some fictional bygone age of an ethnically pure Britain, with the potential for drawing conclusions that people are in some sense 'other' if not white.
The Egyptians have been removed from the primary curriculum and there is no requirement to study any other African or Asian civilisations. Given the enormous volume of obligatory content, it is very unlikely that anything unspecified will be covered. This will deprive Britain's current diverse mix of non-white students from the empowering opportunity to see themselves in their history curriculum and deprive their white classmates of a chance for developing respect and cross-cultural understanding.
The curriculum also fails to promote gender equality. In particular there are no women at all mentioned in the key stage 2 syllabus except for two Tudor queens. In key stage 3, four of the five token women mentioned (Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole, George Eliot and Annie Besant) are patronisingly grouped under one among a sea of bullet points headed The Changing Role of Women.
Equality of religious groups is also a concern. No consideration is given to the wrongs done to Catholics, particularly in Ireland, in a curriculum designed, in the current education secretary's words: "To celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world." The Dutch invasion of 1688 which deposed Catholic James II is referred to by the biased and archaic term, the Glorious Revolution. Its results were hardly glorious for British Catholics.
If the history we study reflects what matters to us as a society, then this curriculum sends a stark message: history is essentially about celebrating the 'achievements' of white Protestant male elites.
Katherine Edwards has been a history teacher for 12 years and works in Surrey.